Danny Greene - Plus 25
By Rick Porrello
With almost daily media coverage of terrorist bombings, it’s hard to believe that such a vicious weapon was once used on a regular basis in Cleveland, Ohio’s underworld to settle scores and eliminate competitors – “headaches” as the mobsters called them. So many bombs were being detonated in 1970s Cleveland that it became known as Bomb City, U.S.A. To deal with the problem, the local office of the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the federal agency charged with regulating explosives and investigating bombings, had to be tripled in manpower.
Danny Greene, a flamboyant mob associate with a penchant for the color green and excessively proud of his Celtic heritage got his start in the 1960s as president of the local International Longshoremen’s Association of. He could have been a highly successful businessman but he wanted excitement. After a shocking expose by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he was ousted from the docks and fined $10,000 for embezzling union funds. Danny had been forcing longshoremen to unload filthy grain boats and "donate" their paychecks to a union hall "renovation fund." The hall had already been renovated - painted green when Danny took office.
About this time Danny was recruited by an F.B.I. agent as a C.I. or confidential informant. Because of Danny’s connections to labor racketeers and mobsters and the information he was privy to, he became classified as a highly-prized T.E. or Top Echelon informant.
Later Danny worked for as an enforcer for local mobsters including Alex "Shondor" Birns, well-known Jewish racketeer labeled as Cleveland’s Public Enemy Number One during the 1950s and 1960s. After a dispute over a $60,000 loan 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 and lucky Irishman's life. Danny found the bomb.
"I’ll return this to the bastard who sent it to me,” Danny swore.
Sure enough, a few weeks later Birns was blown out the roof of his car, in two pieces.
In 1976 there was a bombing war being raged in Cleveland for control of the rackets. Danny Greene and labor union figure John Nardi teamed up against James “Jack White” Licavoli, a former member of the Purple Gang. The aging but powerful and wealthy Licavoli reluctantly took over the reigns after the death of longtime mob boss John Scalish.
Greene and Nardi’s strategy was a quick and aggressive offensive. In 1976 Licavoli’s cousin and mob underboss Leo "Lips" Moceri, disappeared. A few days later a pool of blood was found in the trunk of his car. Moceri’s body has never been found. Next Greene and Nardi went after Eugene Ciasullo. Nicknamed "the Animal," Ciasullo was the Cleveland mob’s most feared enforcer. He was seriously injured and put out of commission for several months with a bomb that was placed on his front porch.
James Licavoli had enough and 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. In one attempt, the hitmen placed themselves too far from Greene for the radio signal from their remote transmitter to detonate a bomb placed next to their target’s car.
Finally Licavoli’s men got Greene’s partner John Nardi. Nardi had been carrying a .38 revolver, but it was no match for the powerful bomb that was planted on a car, parked next to Nardi’s vehicle and detonated by remote control.
But the mob soldiers still couldn’t seem to eliminate Danny Greene who sat boldly outside the headquarters of his “Celtic Club,” under an Irish flag. After so many failed attempts on his life, Danny had developed an aura of invincibility that intimidated many of those mobsters trying to kill him. Danny knew it and was taking advantage of it.
He was interviewed by a television reporter and boldly issued a challenge to the Mafia.
Greene declared. “I have no axe to grind, but if these maggots in this so-called Mafia want to come after me, I'm over here by the Celtic Club. I'm not hard to find."
Cleveland Mafia members were incensed. An exasperated mob lieutenant complained, “how did this guy ever come into the picture?”
But in the end, Danny went out the way he predicted. "When you live by the bomb, you die by the bomb."
It happened on Oct. 6th, 1977, a sunny afternoon in the Cleveland suburb of Lyndhurst. near Interstate 271. Danny Greene arrived at the Brainard Place Medical Building for a dental appointment. He parked his car, grabbed a leather bag which contained a 9mm pistol and went up to have a loose filling repaired.
Mob associates Ronnie Carabbia from Youngstown and Ray Ferritto from Erie, PA. were already there in the parking lot and watched Greene enter the building. This was the chance they had been waiting for. They parked a “Joe Blow” car with a fake registration next to Danny’s car. Inside the car was a specially built door packed with a powerful explosive charge and wired to a remote-controlled detonator.
When Greene returned to his car, the two mobsters detonated the bomb killing Greene instantly. The Irishman was dead. And the Cleveland Mafia was celebrating.
Several days after Greene's murder, the F.B.I. intercepted some interesting conversation through their Title III hidden microphone surveillance at Mafia boss James Licavoli's house. Apparently Licavoli, his right-hand man John Calandra and an unidentified male were complaining about Frank Embrescia, Frank Brancato and John Nardi. They felt that these men, deceased mobsters, as well as the F.B.I. were responsible for Greene's rise to power.
LICAVOLI: Embrescia was so fuckin' burned up when Shondor got it. Hey if he couldn't handle him, that's his own fault.
CALANDRA: That's right. That's right.
UNIDENTIFIED: How can a marked man put a big flag in front of his house. He had a big Irish flag out by the side, anybody could see it. He put it there on purpose. He'd be sitting out there under the sun.
CALANDRA: He has some pretty good connections though.
LICAVOLI: He had some connections all right. The fuckin' F.B.I. He used to tell them about every goddamed thing everyone did.
CALANDRA: You know that with Greene. He was the F.B.I.'s boy.
LICAVOLI: Oh fuck yes. But he didn't work with the F.B.I., he told them what to do! He told them what to do. He said F.B.I. your ass. He thought he got so fuckin' big. Well he wanted it all that's all. Him and Nardi. That fucker. He used to give them the money and he used to give them all the information. He created a monster.
CALANDRA: Nardi and Brancato.
LICAVOLI: That's right. They created that guy. And all the fuckin' headaches we used to have.
Licavoli didn't know then but his headaches were just beginning.
The Mafia's celebration was cut short. There was much sloppy work and a few observant witnesses and extraordinary investigations by the Lyndhurst Police, Cleveland Police, F.B.I. and other law enforcement agencies.
One of the witnesses was a sketch artist who drew an amazing likeness of Ray Ferritto for authorities. When a search warrant was executed at Ferritto’s house in Erie, police found the registration papers for the bomb car and arrested him. Another embarassing blunder.
But Ferritto was the only one who had been picked up. Mafia boss Licavoli and his crew had a plan. They would merely kill Ferritto and be in the clear. But word bot back to Ferritto. When he found out that the very mob he was serving had put out a contract on his life, he “flipped” and made a deal with police.
As a result, numerous Cleveland mobsters were arrested. Ronnie Carrabbia and Pasquale “Butchie” Cisternino were convicted of state murder charges and sentenced to life in prison. Cisternino died while incarcertated. Carrabbia was paroled in September of this year after serving twenty-four years.
As a result of Ferritto’s testimony and federal charges that followed the state trial, Southern California mob captain Jimmy "Weasel" Fratianno (who recommended Ferritto for the Greene murder) defected and co-authored The Last Mafioso.
In 1982, acting Cleveland mob boss Angelo “Big Ange” Lonardo, a product of Cleveland’s Prohibition-era sugar war, sentenced to life for drug racketeering also went to work for the government and was eventually released from prison. At the time Lonardo, 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. It all started with Danny Greene.
A Cleveland attorney defending a local mobster commented in 1982: “Danny Greene died five years ago and he’s still fucking with us.”
Danny would have been proud.
Rick Porrello is author of To Kill The Irishman, the story of Danny Greene and the fall of the Cleveland mob and The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia the story of Angelo “Big Ange” Lonardo and the Cleveland Mafia.
Purchase an autographed copy of "The Irishman"
Read a chapter from To Kill The Irishman
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The mob's war with Danny Greene hits its peak in 1976. In August, only weeks after Eugene Ciasullo was bombed, feared underboss Leo Moceri received a threatening phone call.
"Leo you're dead," the unidentified caller said.
His girlfriend expressed concern over the call, but Leo laughed.
"If anyone wanted to kill me I wouldn't get a call about it," he told her. "They would just do it."
Two weeks after the phone call, Moceri disappeared. Several days later his Mercedes was found abandoned. In the trunk were a set of golf clubs that Leo had won. They were laying in a pool of blood infested with maggot larvae.
Other violence followed as Danny Greene sent out members of the Celtic Club to eliminate potential competition in the rackets, and settle old scores. On one evening, police arrested Keith Ritson and Kevin McTaggart. The men were cruising around the west side in a vehicle that was camouflaged to look like an unmarked detective's car. Ritson and McTaggart had a pistol, shotgun and several maps in their possession. Circled on the maps were locations of the homes of several of Greene's targets, including that of Eugene Ciasullo, Allie Calabrese, and Joseph B. Kovach Jr., former Teamster and employee of a prominent firechasing company. Kovach was shot to death six days later. Nobody was ever charged in that murder or the attempted murder of Ciasullo.
In the meantime, news of Leo Moceri's murder buzzed through the twenty-four La Cosa Nostra families in the United States. That a family underboss could be killed by outsiders was an major embarrassment to the Cleveland mob.
"Nardi's the brains behind it," Tony Delsanter suggested to Jimmy Fratianno. "This guy's gone fucking crazy since Johnny Scalish died. You know, he was never made and it really pissed him off. They hit Eugene and Leo first because they're the ones they feared the most. Now we've got a war on our hands."
"You guys need some soldiers," Jimmy said. "How long since you've made anybody?"
"Oh, shit, Scalish never made nobody for years and years. We need some young guys, new blood, some good workers."
"How about Ray Ferritto? Jimmy suggested. "He's a good man. Want me to give him a call?
"You know Jimmy, he's a good friend of Ronnie the Crab - Ronnie Carabbia. In fact, we had Ray at Mosquito Lake for one of our Fourth of July bashes. Yeah, give him a call. I'd like to talk to him."
Tall and thin, with salt-and-pepper hair, Raymond Ferritto was a bookie and professional burglar from Erie, Pennsylvania. Raymond entered the world of crime quite early. At age thirteen, he was convicted of burglarizing two gas stations and was sentenced to two years of probation. At age fourteen, Raymond was working at a bronzing factory when an accident caused the amputation of two of his toes. At age seventeen he left high school and joined the Marine Corps, but was discharged honorably a month later because of the injuries to his foot.
During his twenties, Ferritto was a bookmaker and vending machine route man in Erie. He was married in 1948, and fathered three children before he divorced in 1956. He remarried in 1957 and had one child. By that time Ferritto had moved to Warren, Ohio where he met Ronald Carabbia and Tony Delsanter. Carabbia was one of three brothers, all known as "the Crab" - a play on their last name - who had become prominent in Youngstown-area organized crime. Delsanter was a made Mafia member and associate of the Licavoli family. He managed the Cleveland mob's gambling interests in the Mahoning Valley.
In 1958, at age twenty-nine, Ferritto was arrested for burglary. He plead guilty and served three years of a three-to-five year sentence. Once out, Ferritto spent some time in the Cleveland area where he committed several burglaries with Allie Calabrese and Pasquale Butchie Cisternino.
By the late sixties, Ferritto had moved to Los Angeles where he was associated with a group of Cleveland hoods which included Julius Petro. In the forties, Petro wriggled free from a death sentence on a retrial in a murder case. Ferritto and Petro were associates of Jimmy Fratianno, who by that time was on his way up the ranks of the Southern California Mafia. Likewise, Ray Ferritto was trying to make a name for himself.
In 1969, Ferritto booked a flight from Los Angeles to Erie. He was driven to the airport by another burglar, originally from Cleveland. Accompanying the two, just for the ride, was Julius Petro. The accomplice wheeled the car into an airport parking garage spot. Ferritto waited for a plane to take off, thrust a gun to the back of Julius Petro's head and pulled the trigger. The single fatal report was muffled by the roar of the jet. The murder resulted from a conflict with a well-known and successful bookmaker in Los Angeles who used Petro as a muscler. Ferritto and his accomplice were likely candidates for the contract, since they both disliked Petro.
Prior to the hit at the airport, Ferritto tried to plant a bomb on Petro's car. While assembling the explosive, Ferritto accidentally detonated the blasting cap causing a minor injury to his leg. He opted for the "one-way ride" method of execution next. Petro's killing went unsolved for years, until a dramatic turn of events began to unfold.
In 1971, Ferritto was convicted of burglary, this time with explosives. He was sentenced to fifteen years and incarcerated at Chino Penal Institution for Men in Chino, California. Jimmy Fratianno also happened to be doing time at Chino and the two became friends.
In 1974, Ferritto was released from Chino and returned to Erie. He started booking again and also worked for a vending company which was owned by a cousin. By that time, Ray developed an ulcer serious enough to require partial removal of his stomach. To calm his nerves, he took handfuls of antacid tablets and even smoked marijuana.
In May of 1976, Ferritto received a call from Jimmy Fratianno who was visiting in Warren, Ohio.
"I'm in Warren Ray. I'd like to talk to you. It's important."
The next day Ferritto drove to Warren and met with Fratianno in the cocktail lounge of a motel. Fratianno was with a west coast insurance agent paying $5,000 to meet with Jackie Presser. The three exchanged greetings and the insurance agent left.
"They're having some problems in Cleveland," Fratianno explained. "Somebody's trying to muscle in. I think you should talk to Tony [Delsanter]. You might be able to make some money with him."
"Yeah but what's in it for me?" Ferritto asked.
"Well if you're interested, I can set up a meeting with Tony and you can talk about it then."
Two weeks later Fratianno telephoned Ferritto in Erie and arranged a meeting. The next evening Fratianno, Ferritto and Delsanter met at Cherry's Top of the Mall Restaurant in Warren.
"You guys have something to discuss," Fratianno said. "I'll leave you alone."
Jimmy walked over and sat at the bar. Ferritto and Delsanter sat down at a table, exchanged amenities then lowered their voices to just above a whisper.
"Has Jimmy told you about the problems we're having Ray?" Delsanter asked.
"Just that somebody's trying to muscle in on the gambling."
"There's two," Delsanter explained. "John Nardi and Danny Greene and they've gotta be taken care of."
"I'm interested Tony but what's in it for me?"
"I'll have to ask Jack because he's the boss."
Greene was too big a prize for an exclusive contract. In the beginning, Ferritto was unaware that other attempts were being made to kill Greene and Nardi. But they had become such a persistent threat to Licavoli and his mob family that several characters were interested in killing him. It was assumed that the successful assassin would be greatly rewarded and gain instant respect in the underworld. Ferritto didn't hear from Carabbia or Delsanter for several months. In the meantime, the situation in the Cleveland underworld approached near chaos.
Before Ferritto could accept the contract to kill Greene and Nardi, Butchie Cisternino and convicted bank robber Allie Calabrese went after him. They tried to kill Nardi in Little Italy with a high-powered rifle. Another attempt was made a few days later when a shotgun blast was fired at Nardi from a moving car.
Nardi granted an interview to a reporter inquiring about a rumor that Licavoli and he were feuding.
"I'm not feuding with anybody," Nardi laughed. "That's ridiculous. Why would I feud with Jack White? The man is a friend of mine. I've known him all my life. Besides, what would we feud about? I could see if there was a million dollars in this town, but there isn't. What are you going to take over? Headaches?"
Nardi denied that Danny Greene worked for him. "We're just friends. I'm friends with everybody." Nardi was asked about friends and associates reputed to be in the Mafia. "The newspapers say they're in the Mafia. I don't know that. I never ask anybody their business."
Nardi knew there was indeed something to feud about. Whoever succeeded in taking over the Cleveland La Cosa Nostra throne, would inherit control of the billion dollar Teamster pension fund, and thousands monthly from the Las Vegas skim and gambling operations in Youngstown and Cleveland.
In the meantime, Nardi's word out on the street was quite different than the story he gave the reporter.
"Everyone who took shots at me is gonna go," he threatened.
After learning of the murder attempts on Nardi, Ray Ferritto phoned Ronnie Carabbia to find out what was happening with the plans they had made. Another meeting was set up and again Ferritto drove to Warren. Tony Delsanter, Ronnie "the Crab" Carabbia and Butchie Cisternino were there. Also present was John Calandra.
Other than having a one-entry police record, John Calandra was an unlikely figure to be involved in the mob's war with Greene and Nardi. Sixty years old and still working at his Collinwood tool and die shop, he was in poor health as was the small white poodle that he would often be seen toting around affectionately. Apparently, Calandra's close friendship with Licavoli was the basis for his involvement.
The men shook hands and sat down for a short meeting and then dinner.
"I've read there have been attempts on John Nardi. Is the deal still good?" Ferritto asked.
"It's still good," Calandra answered.
"Ray we've had problems getting a schedule on Greene and Nardi," Delsanter added. "Their moves are erratic and we can't pin them down."
"There's been a lot of people calling about Leo," Calandra said. "They want to know what's happening and if anything is being done."
The meeting ended with an agreement that Ferritto would assist in trying to get a schedule on Greene.
Two weeks after Nardi was shot at, Greene's men wired a bomb to the ignition of Allie Calabrese's Lincoln Continental. Calabrese lived on a quiet street in Collinwood and made a habit of parking his car at a neighbor's house since he didn't have a driveway. He left his key in the car in case it had to be moved. Up until this time, the mob's war with Danny Greene had been without innocent casualties. That ended when Calabrese's 50-year-old neighbor Frank Pircio got up to leave for work. Calabrese's car was blocking Pircio's so he hopped in the Lincoln to move it, and was killed in a horrific explosion.
Not only were bombs being used in the Mafia war with Nardi and Greene, they had become a favorite weapon in Northeast Ohio gangland. It was about this time that Cleveland was dubbed "bombing capital of the United States" by a newspaper. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was so inundated with blast investigations that they tripled their manpower in northeast Ohio.
A month after Frank Pircio was killed, Ronnie Carabbia telephoned Ray Ferritto and arranged another meeting at Cherry's Restaurant. The next evening, Ferritto drove to Warren where he met with Tony Delsanter, Jack Licavoli, Butchie Cisternino and Carabbia.
The men exchanged greetings, took a table in the bar area and spoke softly.
"Jack, Ray is interested but he wants to know what's in it for him," Delsanter explained.
"Don't worry Ray, we'll take care of you," Licavoli promised. "We can pay you one lump sum or we could make you. If you'll go to Detroit we'll make you and give you 25% of the Warren and Youngstown gambling profits. You won't have to worry about money for the rest of your life."
"Okay, when you're ready, call me," Ferritto said.
"In the meantime, Butchie will do the legwork," Licavoli added. And if a chance comes up to get Ritson and McTaggart, hit them too.
Just as casually as that, the decision was made. Licavoli now had a proven killer to take care of John Nardi, the Irishman and his Celtic Club lieutenants. The four got up, took a table in the dining room and ordered dinner.
Copyright ©2002 Rick Porrello
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