| The Cleveland La Cosa Nostra
During the late eighteen hundreds, the four Lonardo brothers and seven Porrello brothers were boyhood friends and fellow sulphur mine workers in their hometown of Licata, Sicily. They came to America in the early nineteen hundreds and eventually settled in Cleveland.|
“Big Joe" Lonardo became a successful businessman and community leader. During Prohibition, he became wealthy as a dealer in corn sugar which was used by bootleggers to make corn liquor. He was respected and feared as a "padrone" or godfather. "Big Joe" became the leader of a powerful and vicious gang and was known as a corn sugar "baron." Joe Porrello was one of his corporals.
With the advent of Prohibition, Cleveland, like other big cities, experienced a wave of bootleg-related murders. The murders produced the same suspects, but no indictments. These suspects were members of the Lonardo gang. Several of the murders occurred at the corner of E. 25th and Woodland Ave. This intersection became known as the "bloody corner." Many of Lonardo’s gang members had previous street battle experience in the newspaper circulation wars.
Around 1926, Joe Porrello left the employ of the Lonardos to start his own sugar wholesaling business. Porrello and his six brothers pooled their money and eventually became successful corn sugar dealers headquartered in the upper Woodland Avenue area around E. 110th Street.
With small competitors, sugar dealers and bootleggers, mysteriously dying violent deaths, the Lonardos' business flourished as they gained a near monopoly on the corn sugar business. Their main competitors were their old friends the Porrellos.
"Big Joe" Lonardo in 1926, now at the height of his wealth and power, left for Sicily to visit his mother and relatives. He left his closest brother and business partner John in charge. During "Big Joe's" six-month absence, he lost much of his $5,000 a week profits to the Porrellos who took advantage of John Lonardo's lack of business skills and the assistance of a disgruntled Lonardo employee. "Big Joe" returned and business talks between the Porrellos and Lonardos began. They "urged" the Porrellos to return their lost clientele.
On Oct. 13th, 1927 "Big Joe" and John Lonardo went to the Porrello barbershop to play cards and talk business with Angelo Porrello as they had been doing for the past week. As the Lonardos entered the rear room of the shop, two gunmen opened fire. Angelo Porrello ducked under a table.
The Porrello brothers were arrested. Angelo was charged with the Lonardo brothers' murders. The charges were later dropped for lack of evidence. Joe Porrello succeeded the Lonardos as corn sugar "baron" and later appointed himself "capo" of the Cleveland Mafia.
On Dec. 5th, 1928, Joe Porrello and his lieutenant and bodyguard Sam Tilocco hosted the first known major meeting of the Mafia at Cleveland's Hotel Statler. Many major Mafia leaders from Chicago to New York to Florida were invited. The meeting was raided before it actually began.
Joe Profaci, leader of a Brooklyn, N.Y. Mafia family was the most well-known of the gangsters arrested. He was the founder of the Colombo Mafia family. Vincent Mangano also ranked high as founder of the Gambino family most recently headed by the "Dapper Don" John Gotti. Within a few hours, to the astonishment of police and court officials, Joe Porrello gathered thirty family members and friends who put up their houses as collateral for the gangsters' bonds. Profaci was bailed out personally by Porrello. A great controversy over the validity of the bonds followed.
As Joe Porrello's power and wealth grew, heirs and close associates to the Lonardo brothers grew hot for revenge.
Angelo Lonardo, "Big Joe's" 18-year-old son along with his mother and his cousin, drove to the corner of E. 110th and Woodland, the Porrello stronghold. There Angelo sent word that his mother wanted to speak to Salvatore "Black Sam" Todaro. Todaro, now a Porrello lieutenant, had worked for Angelo's father and was believed to be responsible for his murder. In later years it was believed that he was actually one of the gunmen.
As Todaro approached to speak with Mrs. Lonardo whom he respected, Angelo pulled out a gun and emptied it into "Black Sam's stocky frame. Todaro crumpled to the sidewalk and died.
Eventually Angelo and his cousin were arrested and charged with "Black Sam's" murder. For the first time in Cleveland's bootleg murder history justice was served as both young men were convicted and sentenced to life. Justice although served would be shortlived as they would be released only a year and a half later after winning a new trial.
By 1929, Little Italy crime boss Frank Milano had risen to power as leader of his own gang, "The Mayfield Road Mob." Milano's group was made up in part of remnants of the Lonardo gang and was also associated with the powerful "Cleveland Syndicate," headed by Moe Dalitz, associate of mega-mobster Meyer Lansky. The Cleveland Syndicate was responsible for most of the Canadian booze imported via Lake Erie. In later years they got into the casino business. One of the their largest and most profitable enterprises was construction of the Desert Inn Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas. Dalitz would become known in legitimate circles as the "Godfather of Las Vegas."
By 1930, Frank Milano and his brother Tony had grown quite powerful. Frank had gone so far as to demand a piece of the lucrative Porrello corn sugar business. On July 5th, 1930, Porrello received a phonecall from Milano who had requested a conference at his Venetian Restaurant on Mayfield Road and Murray Hill Roads in Little Italy.
The meeting unexpectedly erupted in gunfire and both Porrello and his bodyguard were killed. Frank Milano and several of his restaurant employees were arrested but only charged with being suspicious persons. The gunmen were never actually identified.
Cleveland's underworld was tense with rumors of imminent warfare. Porrello brother Vincente-James spoke openly of wiping out everyone responsible for his brother's murder. Three weeks after his brother's murder, Jim Porrello still wore a black shirt as he entered the I & A grocery and meat market at E. 110th Street and Woodland. As he picked out lamb chops at the meat counter, a Ford touring car, its' curtains tightly drawn, cruised slowly past the store. A couple of shotguns poked out and two thunderous blasts of buckshot were fired, one through the front window of the store and one through the front screen door.
The amateur gunmen got lucky. Two pellets found the back of Porrello's head and entered his brain. He was rushed to the hospital but died a few hours later.
Two local petty gangsters were arrested and charged with murder. One was discharged by directed verdict and the other was acquitted. Like almost all of Cleveland's bootleg related murders, the killers never saw justice.
About this time, it was rumored that the Porrello brothers were marked for extermination. The surviving brothers went into hiding. Raymond, known for his cocky attitude and hot temper spoke like his brother James did of seeking revenge. Raymond was smarter though, he took active measures to protect himself.
On August 15th, 1930, three weeks after James Porrello's murder, Raymond Porrello's house was leveled in a violent explosion. He was not home at the time since he had taken
his family and abandoned his home in anticipation of the attack. The bombing was a warning to the Porrellos from the Mayfield Road Mob. Soon, the out-gunned Porrellos were closing down their sugar operation.
The thirst for revenge had not been satisfied for members of the Lonardo family. It was generally believed that "Black Sam" Todaro instigated and perhaps took part in the murders of "Big Joe" and John Lonardo. However it was believed by members of the Lonardo family that the remaining Porrello brothers, particularly the volatile John and Raymond and eldest brother Rosario still posed a threat because of the murders of Joe and James Porrello.
On Feb. 25th, 1932 Raymond Porrello, his brother Rosario and their bodyguard Dominic Gulino (known also by several aliases) were playing cards near E. 110th and Woodland Avenue. The front door burst open and in a hail of bullets the Porrello brothers, their bodyguard and a bystander went down. The Porrellos died at the scene. Gulino died a couple of hours later. The bystander eventually recovered from his wounds. This shooting was Cleveland's deadliest mob hit ever.
In 1933, Prohibition was repealed. The bootleg murders mostly stopped as organized crime moved into gambling and other enterprises. Frank Milano moved to Mexico leaving “Big Al” Polizzi in charge. Angelo Lonardo continued his crime career as a respected member of the Cleveland family eventually rising through the ranks to run the northeast Ohio rackets in 1980. Things were remained relatively quiet in the Cleveland underworld through the forties, fifties and sixties.
Enter Danny Greene. He was fearless and cunning - loved by his neighbors and hated by his business competitors - the members of the Cleveland Mafia. Fiercely proud of his Irish heritage, he was a Celtic warrior at heart, obsessed with the color green - green car, green jackets, green ink pens. For a decade Greene had been boldly encroaching on mob territory. Their threats didn't worry him.
Danny got his start in racketeering in the late sixties as president of the local International Association of Longshoremen. After a shocking expose by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he was ousted from the docks and fined $10,000 for embezzling union funds.
Later Danny worked for as an enforcer for local mobsters including Alex "Shondor" Birns, well-known Jewish racketeer. After a dispute over a $60,000 Greene refused to repay, Birns had a bomb planted in his car. It was the first in a series of botched attempts on the brash Irishman's life. Danny found the bomb.
"Luck of the Irish," he would often say. "I'll return this to the old bastard who sent it to me," Greene promised.
Sure enough, a few weeks later Birns was blown out the roof of his car, in two pieces. It was an excellent hit and Danny was proud.
A power vacuum developed in the Cleveland underworld when John Scalish, mob boss from 1944 until 1976 died during heart surgery. Danny Greene teamed up with Teamster official John Nardi in a bid to take over. Their biggest offensive and mistake was the 1976 murder of Leo "Lips" Moceri, the respected and feared new underboss of the Cleveland Mafia, and the bombing of enforcer Eugene “The Animal” Ciasullo. Aging mob boss James Licavoli ordered his henchman to "get rid of the Irishman," but the inexperienced soldiers had no luck. The attempts by the self-proclaimed tough guys were almost comical. Then west coast wise guy Jimmy 'the Weasel" Fratianno recommended a hired killer from Erie.
In the end, Danny went out the way he predicted. "When you live by the bomb, you die by the bomb." The Irishman was dead.
But the Mafia's celebration was cut short. There was much sloppy work, a few observant witnesses (one of whom was a sketch artist!) and extraordinary investigations by federal, state and local officials. The aftermath of Greene's assassination brought about a Mafia war in Youngstown, Ohio, a mob murder plot against Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich and charges against Mahoning County Sheriff James Traficant for accepting Mafia bribe money. Traficant was acquitted and is now a United States Congressman.
In 1983, Angelo Lonardo, 72, one-time Cleveland Mafia boss, turned government informant. He shocked family, friends, law enforcement officers and particularly, criminal associates with his decision which was made after being sentenced to life plus 103 years for drug and racketeering convictions. The sentence came after the monumental investigation into the murder of Danny Greene. As a direct result of Danny's murder, Jimmy "Weasel" Fratianno also defected and co-authored The Last Mafioso and Vengeance is Mine. His courtroom testimony and that of Angelo Lonardo, once called "the highest ranking mobster ever to testify for the government" helped put away mob bosses Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno of New York's Genovese Mafia family, Anthony "Tony Ducks" Corallo of the Luchesse clan and Carmine Persico of the Colombo family. He also testified in 1985 at the Las Vegas casino "skimming" trials in Kansas City. Federal investigators trace these major mob convictions right back to the murder of Greene. Danny would have been proud.
Currently, remnants of the once-mighty Cleveland La Cosa Nostra are thought by many to be under the control of Joseph “Joe Loose” Iacobacci.
By Rick Porrello
The Rise and Fall Cleveland Mafia
To Kill The Irishman: The War that Crippled the Mafia