By Mario Machi, Allan May and Charlie Molino
The history of the Buffalo Crime Family revolves around the reign of Stefano Magaddino. Later described as "the grand old man of the Cosa Nostra," Magaddino was illiterate, but by no means stupid. He was an original member of the National Commission, which was created in 1931, and was a highly respected figure in underworld circles from New York City to Chicago.
Stefano Magaddino was born on October 10, 1891, in Castellammare, Sicily. Before leaving Sicily, the Magaddino brothers, Antonino, Pietro, and Stefano, were involved in a feud with the Buccellato brothers. During this time, Pietro was murdered and the other two brothers left for the United States settling in Brooklyn. On August 16, 1921, Magaddino was arrested as a fugitive from justice involving a murder that took place in Avon, New Jersey. Shortly after this, Magaddino and Gaspar Milazzo were shot at as they walked out of a Brooklyn store. The attempted ambush resulted in the death of two innocent bystanders. The shooting attempt had been made by members of the Buccellato clan. The retaliation would claim the lives of several Buccellato men. When police suspected Magaddino and Milazzo, the both left Brooklyn for Buffalo and Detroit, respectively.
Once established in the Buffalo / Niagara Falls area, Magaddino ran a profitable bootlegging business due to the city’s close proximity to Canada. The Buffalo family allowed the Cleveland Syndicate and Moe Dalitz's "Big Jewish Navy" to smuggle illegal booze from Canada through Buffalo. However, in 1933 when remnants of another Cleveland gang, the Porrello family, tried to muscle in on the Buffalo corn sugar business, guns blazed and the Porrellos were turned back losing their fifth family member in four years.
In 1930, the Castellammarese War was raging in New York City. The war pitted Salvatore Maranzano against Joe "The Boss" Masseria. Maranzano was from the Sicilian coastal town of Castellammare del Golfo from which the war took its name. When the war broke out, the Masseria forces, the largest of the two factions, boasted the likes of Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis, Albert Anastasia, Tom Gagliano, and Tommy Lucchese. On the Maranzano side was Joe Profaci, Joe Magliocco, and Joe Bonanno, who was Magaddino’s cousin. During the months of fighting, Magaddino helped the Maranzano cause by sending $5,000 a week. The war came to an end on April 15, 1931 when Luciano set-up Masseria to be hit in a Coney Island restaurant. Maranzano was murdered six months later on September 10, in his Park Avenue office.
Before Prohibition ended, Magaddino began peddling a non-alcoholic mixture called "Home Juice." The local Italian population was compelled to purchase the concoction that was sold door-to-door. The immigrants quickly realized that refusal to buy the product could prove detrimental to their health, in which case another mob-run business was available to cater to their needs, the Magaddino Memorial Chapel funeral home.
After Prohibition, the Buffalo family continued its money making through gambling, loansharking and labor racketeering. The family was also branching out - west, into Ohio and north, into Canada.
In the late 1930s, Magaddino was associated with John Charles Montana in the Empire State Brewery located in Olean, New York. During this period, Montana was said to be Magaddino’s second-in-command. This leadership was further cemented by inter-marriage between the two families. Magaddino’s son Peter was married to the niece of Montana, while a daughter was married to Montana’s nephew.
Montana was born on June 30, 1893 in Montedore, Italy. Montana had a clean record until he was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice as a result of his presence at the Apalachin meeting. While in grade school, he began earning money as a candy shop messenger boy. He later purchased a taxi cab and would eventually own the largest taxi company in western New York state through a merger of the Yellow Cab Company and the Van Dyke Taxi and Transfer Company. In 1928, Montana was elected to Buffalo city council and re-elected in 1930. The civic-minded mobster was named "Man of the Year" in 1956 by the National Junior Chamber of Commerce. His connections to organized crime were exposed in the wake of the Apalachin disaster. Reports after this exposure tied him in with the notorious Joe DiCarlo. Montana died in 1967.
In 1945, Buffalo racketeer Joe "The Wolf" DiCarlo, who had been arrested 26 times and earned the title of Public Enemy Number One in Buffalo, went to Youngstown to muscle in on the numbers rackets there. During testimony before the Kefauver committee on organized crime, DiCarlo irritated committee members with his poor memory and flip answers. At the end of the questioning, Kefauver told him that he would recommend appropriate action be taken against him, to which DiCarlo responded, "Thank you, Senator."
Magaddino had many enemies over the years and survived several attempts on his life. In 1936, a bomb intended for him was detonated in the wrong house and killed his sister. Another assassination attempt took place in 1958 when a hand grenade was hurled through his kitchen window but failed to explode. This attempt might have come from one of the angry mobsters who had attended the debacle at Apalachin. Rumor has it that Magaddino talked Vito Genovese into having the meeting at Joseph Barbara's New York home instead of holding it in Chicago. Many believe that Magaddino was one of the meeting participants who escaped through the woods when police arrived. The fact that law enforcement officials found some of his personal belongings left behind at the Barbara home helps to bolster this claim. Buffalo Family members arrested at Apalachin were Magaddino’s brother, Antonio, James La Duca, a son-in-law, John Montana and Rosario "Roy" Carlisi. In the 1990s, Roy Carlisi’s bother Sam "Wings" Carlisi would run the Chicago Outfit for a short time.
During the early 1960s, two brothers, Albert and Vito Agueci, were engaged in narcotics trafficking in the greater Buffalo area. Albert, who had a home in Toronto, had at one time befriended Joe Valachi and helped him find a hiding place in Canada when he was on the run from a narcotics charge. The brothers, who were born and raised in Sicily, had the blessing of Magaddino and paid him a percentage of their drug profits. In return, they were to be provided with protection from other gang members and legal help if they ran into problems. On July 20, 1961, the Agueci brothers were arrested in New York City on narcotics violations. When Magaddino reneged on his promise to provide support, Albert Agueci’s wife was forced to furnish the bail. Agueci soon made noises about getting even.
On November 23, 1961 the 38 year-old Albert Agueci was found on a farm near Rochester, New York. His badly mutilated corpse had an estimated 30 pounds of flesh carved from it. Agueci’s jaw was shattered and half his teeth knocked out. Finally, he had been strangled with a clothesline, soaked in gasoline, and set on fire.
Vito Agueci was convicted on the narcotics charges and sent to the Atlanta Penitentiary to serve his sentence. While there, Vito Genovese provoked him into a personality conflict with Joe Valachi. This conflict ended with Valachi killing another inmate and eventually becoming a government witness.
Also during the early 1960s, Magaddino’s cousin, Joe Bonanno, who had already been expanding his influence into Canada, Arizona and Sicily, decided to make a power play in New York City. Since the late 1920s and early 1930s, Magaddino had been a big supporter of his cousin. But now, Magaddino believed Bonanno, along with his other moves, was trying to muscle in on some of his territory in Canada. Magaddino at one time was rumored to be on a Bonanno hit list. Conspiring with Joseph Magliocco, who succeeded the Joe Profaci who died of cancer in 1962, Bonanno planned the murders of Carlo Gambino and Tommy Lucchese. They hired Profaci enforcer Joseph Colombo to carry out the killings. Colombo betrayed the two by going to Gambino and exposing the plot.
At a meeting of the Commission, Bonanno and Magliocco were called to appear. Bonanno refused to show up. Magliocco agreed and admitted his role in the plot. He was fined $50,000, stripped of his role as boss of the Profaci family, and replaced by Joe Colombo. Magliocco died of natural causes in 1963.
The Commission ruled that Bonanno had forfeited his position and installed Gaspar DiGregorio as head of the family. DiGregorio was Magaddino’s brother-in-law and had been Bonanno’s best man in his 1931 wedding. This decision upset factions within the Bonanno Family and instigated what became known as the "Banana War," which raged from 1964 to 1969.
On October 21, 1964, Joe Bonanno was kidnapped by Magaddino’s brother, Antonino, and his son, Peter, on Park Avenue. According to Bonanno, during the time he was held captive, Magaddino had "succeeded in maintaining an air of mystery about the kidnapping." After Bonanno was released, he and Magaddino never saw each other again. The "Banana War" effectively ended in 1968 when Bonanno suffered a heart attack and retired, or was banished, to Arizona. As of January 1999, Bonanno is still living in Tucson.
By the late 1960s, the aging Magaddino relinquished control of the day-to-day operations of the family’s legitimate businesses like the Magaddino Memorial Chapel, the Power City Distributing Company of Niagara Falls, and the Camellia Linen Supply Company. At the same time, syndicate operations were overseen by Fred "Lupo" Randaccio, who the Buffalo Police Department was reporting as the second-in-command after the death of John Montana.
Randaccio was born on July 1, 1907 in Palermo, Sicily. His first arrest in the United States was in 1922 when he was 15 years old. Two years later, he was arrested again for gambling and bootlegging. In 1930, he held up a garage owner and received a ten-year sentence. Deportation proceedings were brought against him in 1956. The government dropped the case when they discovered Randaccio served six months in the U S Army in 1945 giving him automatic citizenship.
Lieutenants reporting to Randaccio at this time were John Cammilleri, who controlled labor and union racketeering; Pat Natarelli, Joseph Fino and Daniel Sansanese, overseeing the bookmaking operations; and Steve Cannarozzo, who handles the numbers rackets. Randaccio, described as a great organizer, traveled frequently to Hamilton and Toronto, Canada to review Buffalo controlled operations there.
In the early 1970s, family members felt that Magaddino was taking more than his share of the family profits. The crime family members came to this conclusion after Peter Magaddino’s Niagara Falls apartment was raided and a suitcase containing $521,000 was found under his bed. This discovery helped lead to a breakdown of his father’s leadership. Magaddino had had a variety of heart ailments for several years and died in a Lewiston hospital of a heart attack on July 19, 1974 at the age of 82. He had served as the family leader for 52 years, quite possibly a record tenure for a mob boss. At the time of his death, some splinter groups within the family had begun taking orders from the Bufalino Crime Family, which operated out of Pittston, Pennsylvania.
The Canadian operations started by the Buffalo family, continued on well into the 1990s, and were overseen for the most part by Johnny "Pops" Papalia until he was murdered in May 1997.
John Cammilleri was another ranking member of the Buffalo mob. Cammilleri was born in Campobello di Licata Gigenti, Italy in 1905 and arrived with his family in Buffalo when he was five years old. During the Depression, Cammilleri began his life of crime as a small time hood. As a thief he was arrested for grand larceny in 1930. Over the next few years his rap sheet grew and included arrests for assault with intent to kill, burglary, robbery, and extortion. In 1933, he was sent to Elmira Prison for 20 years.
Paroled by 1939, Cammilleri was back in Buffalo working for the Hod Carriers Local 210, although no one can remember him ever lifting a shovel. Years later, a U S Senate subcommittee described his position as handling union problems as a lieutenant for Stefano Magaddino’s Buffalo Crime Family.
In 1944, despite his lengthy record and the fact that J. Edgar Hoover had personally written a letter to the Buffalo Police Department advising against it, Cammilleri was granted U S citizenship.
Cammilleri’s influence in mob activities grew as he gained a reputation as a man that could be depended on to do favors for the friends of organized crime members. He stayed out of trouble until 1971 when he was caught lying to a grand jury about his association with local gangsters Joseph and Nicholas Fino.
In the early 1970s, Cammilleri had attained a certain degree of independence in some of his operations, which included construction companies, "maverick" work done on the Buffalo Federal Building, and a high-stakes poker game he ran. The local family leadership was growing concerned with this independence. In addition, his attempt to control the leadership of Local 210 brought him into direct conflict with Ron Fino, Joseph’s son, who as the business manager of the union, was trying to separate it from the influence of the mob.
Local 210 had become a haven for organized crime members in Buffalo. This was transparent to the public until Cammilleri put the union on the front page in 1970 when he appeared at the building site of the new federal building on Huron Street. A Time Magazine article in September 1971, stated, "In his sharply tailored suits, pointed-toe shoes, dark glasses and pinkie ring, Cammilleri was an unlikely looking straw boss for an office building." The $14 million dollar construction project, which had fallen woefully behind, now moved forward without any further problems.
It was through Cammilleri’s efforts that Ron Fino was elected, and for his reward he wanted a top spot in the Local. Ron Fino, never a gang member himself, turned down Cammilleri’s request. Angered by this rejection, he took his demands to the family leadership of which Salvatore "Sam" Pieri was the acting boss in the wake of Magaddino’s death. On May 8, 1974 Cammilleri pleaded his case at a meeting held in a Buffalo cigar shop. The council denied his requests and he stormed out of the meeting enraged.
Later that night, he dropped off a girlfriend at Roseland, a popular West Side Italian restaurant, and left to attend the wake of Frank "Blaze" LoTempio, Pieri’s brother-in-law. Cammilleri returned to the restaurant, parked his car and was crossing the street when someone called out his name. Several shots rang out and Cammilleri was hit in the face and chest and died instantly. As restaurant patrons rushed outside to look, a car with four men inside sped down Chenango Street.
The FBI reported that Cammilleri’s death sparked a wave of mob-related murders that lasted into the mid-1980s. During this period law enforcement officials say 15 murders and one disappearance have been linked to his killing, with only one case ending in an arrest.
Ron Fino later became a government witness and testified that his father was marked for death the same night Cammilleri was hit. Joseph Fino barricaded himself in his home for several days until he could arrange a sit-down with family leaders. Ron Fino reported that Pieri stepped forward and saved his father’s life. Both Pieri and Joseph Fino have since passed away.
Cammilleri’s murder has never been solved. However according to the FBI, Michael J. Alessi, a former county legislator and a nephew of Cammilleri, during an interview in 1981 put the finger on Vincent "Jimmy" Siurella as being responsible for the killing.
According to the Department of Justice, leadership of the Buffalo mob is still a family affair. Since the mid-1980s, local organized crime operations are run by Joseph "Lead Pipe Joe" Todaro, Sr. and his son, Joseph Todaro Jr. Todaro, Sr. was born in 1923. He was active in labor unions and this is where he may have picked up the nickname.
The Justice Department's most recent statement on this comes from a November 1994 report which the courts were going to use as basis of suit against the Laborers International Union of North America before Arthur Coia and his administration agreed to government control.
The 212-page report stated that, "Todaro Sr. has been the boss of the Buffalo La Cosa Nostra family and dictates the affairs of Local 210, despite the fact that he has never held an office or position in the union and has never had an official connection with the union." Fifty-two of those pages concerned alleged connections between the mob and local 210.
The FBI describes Todaro Jr., according to a story in The Buffalo News, as a life long criminal who, with his father, runs a Buffalo organized crime family responsible for murders, loansharking, narcotics traffic, gambling and other assorted crimes.
Todaro Sr. is semi-retired and lives in Florida. His son, now 53, runs one of Buffalo's most popular pizza restaurants, La Nova, and frequently donates large numbers of pizzas to various charities, including National Guard troops called up for Desert Storm a few years ago. He has never been convicted of a felony and his attorneys through the years have always denied FBI allegations about his mob connections. But this didn't make any difference to the hearing officer, Peter Vaira, appointed by the International to root out mob influence from Local 210. Out of 28 people accused of associating with the mob, he found charges credible against 17, including Joseph Todaro Jr. Junior resigned his job as a business representative for the local in 1990.
The Todaros are related by marriage to Robert "Bobby" Panaro, who moved from Buffalo and has been in the Las Vegas area for almost 30 years. Panaro is currently under indictment in Las Vegas after a FBI undercover operation was revealed after the murder of Herbert "Fat Herbie" Blitzstein. In addition to Panaro, Buffalo-born Steve Cino, now of the Los Angeles Family, and former Buffalo hood Ron Fino were involved. The FBI believed that members of the Buffalo, Los Angeles and New York Gambino family were active trying to gain a new foothold in Las Vegas.
By Mario Machi, Allan May and Charlie Molino
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