The Suicide Of Steve Raffa
By Scott M. Deitche
In the early morning hours of November 16, 2000 less than three weeks after his arrest, Steve Raffa, the leader of the Trafficante family's South Florida operation hung himself in his Pembrooke Pines home. His wife walked in and found him dead. He was wearing a Polo shirt and gym pants, and around his ankle was a detention bracelet, a condition of his his bail package. He hung himself with a ½ thick orange electrical cord.
Steven Bruno Raffa was the head of the Trafficante family's Miami faction since at least the mid 1980's. By the time the Trafficante family was re-aligned in 1990, Raffa enjoyed a position of power that was unknown to almost everyone outside law enforcement. He operated with anonymity from his base in Opa-Locka, Miami and Pembrooke Pines.
Raffa assembled a crew of Trafficante associates and some freelancers from other crime families. He also enjoyed a close friendship (as well as alliance) with the boss of the Trafficante family, Vincent LoScalzo. In the mid 1990's Raffa joined forces with New Jersey mobster John Mamone, a Genovese gangster who relocated to Pompano Beach. Together the men masterminded a multi-million dollar money laundering operation using a network of mob owned check-cashing stores in South Florida. They laundered money from loansharking and gambling as well as proceeds from a $60 million dollar pyramid scheme run by local criminals in South Carolina.
The crew suffered a major setback on October 26, 2000, when federal authorities arrested nineteen members of the crew along with a Margate police officer. They were all granted bail. Some, like Raffa, were set free under strict house arrest conditions. Less than three weeks later, Raffa decided to end his life.
Police have stated that there was no indication of homicide and that Raffa's state of mind in the weeks before his death foreshadowed his suicide. He reportedly was depressed about the thought of spending the rest of his life in jail and was in a fairly fragile emotional state. His suicide note, written in Italian, was reported to have said "Forgive me."
The Broward County medical examiner's office listed Raffa's death as suicide, noting that the body was free from other signs of trauma. His organs were in good shape, his heart probably able to keep beating for years to come, although Raffa may have been spending the remaining years in prison.
Still, some nagging questions remain over his untimely demise. First and foremost is the fact that suicides of organized crime figures are rare. Also there is the unusual fact that three people associated with Raffa and Mamone.
Raffa had close ties with many of the defendants as well as peripheral figures in the Pizza Connection case. One of those was Giovanni Ligamarri. Vincent LoScalzo was an attendee at Pietro Ligamarri's wedding. Pietro was Giovanni's son. On May 22, 1999, police found the bodies of Giovanni and Pietro hanging in their New Jersey home. The police ruled it a suicide despite many mental health professionals insistence that a father-son double suicide was virtually unheard of. Some in law enforcement has considered the double suicide suspicious, but no official investigation was undertaken to look into those allegations. Another suicide tied to the Raffa/Mamone case was that of New Jersey mob associate who was arrested with members of the Genovese crime family. Mamone reportedly met with the man in jail and gave him a choice to kill himself or be killed by the mob. The man later committed suicide.
As of yet, no evidence has surfaced pointing towards anything other than a routine suicide in the Raffa case, but the trail of bodies that has followed some of the players in the October 26th arrests make for some interesting coincidences. Some sources speculate that Raffa was targeted for death, while some think the emotional weight of the impending trial and possibility of conviction was too much to bear on Raffa and that he may have been thinking of ratting. Some sources indicate that Raffa's family believes that there is more to the suicide than meets the eye. These rumors are just that, but this story is far from over.
Regardless of Raffa's death or the results of his crew's trial, the Trafficante family will still have a presence in the South Florida crime scene as long as there's money to be made. The list of defendants in the October 26th indictment includes many younger wiseguys coming up to fill the ranks and no doubt there are numerous associates still on the street taking over where Raffa's crew left off.
Scott Deitche can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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