top graphic
| Home | Books and Gifts | Photo Album | Mob Busters | Mafia Site Search |
Des Moines, IA
other cities
     other contributors
By Allan May
     Des Moines
history of Louis Fratto photo page under contruction
Louis Fratto
The Mob’s Invisible Man
(The Original Teflon Don)

     Louis Thomas Fratto AKA Lew Farrell was born July 17, 1908 to Thomas and Bianca Fratto. He and his eight siblings grew up in the vicinity of Chicago’s Hull House on the near west side and according to Mike Royko’s book Boss (Richard J. Daley of Chicago), Fratto’s oldest brother, Carmen (a personal bailiff for Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz), was "a west side politician…" who had "a brother called ‘Cock-eyed’ and another brother… ‘One-ear’… both of whom were outstanding mafia figures despite their physical shortcomings." Carmen though, would find himself on the other side of the law in June of 1955 when he would be charged with the murder of his son-in-law, Fred Bartush (for which he would later be exonerated). Ovid Demaris, when talking about Lou’s other brothers in his book Captive City, states that Frank "One-ear" Fratto’s "record dates back to 1941 with more than 10 arrests, (including) fugitive, theft, and assault to commit murder"… convicted for "inner state theft of whiskey (with) three years probation." Also a suspect in the 1957 murder of Williard Bates and the 1963 murder of Alderman Bejamin Lewis, Frank was considered "a syndicate terrorist on the north side who muscled his way into the aluminum siding and storm window business." Lou’s other brother, Rudolph, "was known as the garbage king of the Rush St. Saloon Strip."

     Lou was also a cousin to Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio and later related by marriage to William "Willie Potatoes" Daddano and Albert "Obie" Frobotta. Pulitzer prize winning reporter Clark R. Mollenhoff states in his book Strike Force that "to follow (Lou) Fratto was to follow the network of Teamster racket figures from coast to coast: Gus Zapas of Indianapolis, Indiana; Anthony "Tony Ducks" Corallo, an associate of the Democratic political boss Carmine Desapio in New York; Joey Glimco, the associate of the Democratic machine of Cook County, Illinois; or Anthony "Tony Pro" Provenzano out of the morass of Cosa Nostra politics in Northern New Jersey."

     Louis Thomas Fratto’s criminal career began in 1926 when he was charged with stealing a $14 coat. In 1932 he was identified as a member of the Fiore Mob by Chicago police sergeant William Drurry (who would later be murdered prior to his appearance before the Kefauver committee in 1950). The Fiore Mob, led by Ted Virgilio at the time, was suspected of muscling in on speakeasies and caberets, demanding 50% of the profits. The owners, who illegally operated the places, seldom complained out of fear of being closed, or worse – murdered. By 1933 Fratto was listed as the secretary and treasurer of the Wardrobe Check Washroom Attendant and Doorman’s Union.

     Around this time, Fratto and Virgilio were arrested for questioning in an $800,000 mail robbery. Later that year, in December, Fratto was again sought after, this time for a $250,000 heist pulled in the Loop. Also picked up for questioning was John J. "Boss" McLaughlin, a one time state legislator and political fixer for the North side gang and a suspect for the 1931 murder of Chicago Tribune reporter Jake Lingle. It was at this time that Louis "Little New York" Campagna came to Fratto and asked if he could recruit some boys for organizer jobs. Two of Fratto’s childhood buddies, Sam "Teetz" Battaglia and Marshall "Johnny Marshall" Caifano, had recently been released from Bridewell, a detention center for boys, and Lou brought them aboard along with his cousin Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio. All four boys would become prominent figures in organized crime.

     Campagna went on to send Lou (accompanied by Milwaukee Phil) to Milwaukee where he would befriend John Alioto, the current Milwaukee Boss. In 1934 though, Milwaukee Phil and Lou were arrested on gambling charges and to escape the charges, Lou relocated to Des Moines, Iowa at the insistence of Campagna, his mentor, as well as his childhood friend Charles "Cherry Nose" Gioe who was currently the Des Moines boss.

     By 1936 Lou had replaced Cherry Nose as the Des Moines boss (installed by Anthony Accardo and Paul Ricca), and under Accardo’s leadership, as John W. Touhy writes in When Capone’s Mob Murdered Touhy, "the gang set its flag in Des Moines, Iowa; down state Illinois; Southern California; Kentucky; Las Vegas; Indiana; Arizona; St Louis, Missouri; Mexico; Central and South America." Fratto, now also the Iowa distributor of Canadian Ace beer for the Manhatten Brewery and partners with Louis Alexander Greenberg, a former bankroll for the Capone Mob (of whom Lou would be questioned later when dealing with his 1955 murder) was steadily gaining power.

     As a cub reporter for the Des Moines Register during the early 40’s, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Clark R. Mollenhoff (from Strike Force) witnessed "the tentacles of Lou Fratto reach into the Des Moines police department to promote his friends into the Sheriff’s office for a gun permit, into the prosecutor’s office to kill a criminal indictment, into the local courts to manipulate decisions on evidence, and into the local state political area." He described Fratto as "a pleasant fellow with a perpetual smile, a constant line of flattery, and an alert and observing eye. The slight deviation in his eye alignment that resulted in the nickname ‘Cock-eyed Louie’ made him just a bit self-conscious about looking directly at you, but he managed to scrutinize you indirectly just as well."

     Fratto’s charismatic personality allowed him to make friends with politicians, law enforcement, judges, and newspapermen. He was also active in the community and involved in several civic projects. The Des Moines chamber of commerce even granted him an honorary lifetime membership as well as a plaque for his outstanding service to the community. In addition, Fratto worked as a civilian recruiter for the Navy and helped recruit 75 members, headed a War Bond Drive that sold over a million dollars’ worth of war bonds, and received an award for his work on behalf of the Italian-American population in Des Moines.

     In the mid-1940’s, Fratto used his civic activities to help obtain a beer distributorship in the area. Already a wholesaler for the Manhatten Brewing Company, Fratto was seeking a federal wholesale permit to distribute Canadian Ace beer in Iowa. Agents from the Alcohol Tax Unit investigated Fratto and advised that he was "not a proper man for a federal beer permit." During the hearing, Fratto, who went by the name Lew Farrell in Des Moines (which according to Steven Fox in his book Blood and Power, was a name Fratto had used as a young boxer and "allowed him almost a duel identity"), denied he was the Luigi Fratto with a record of 21 arrests in Chicago. These denials would cause the agency to decline his application for distributorship.

     Fratto though, with his influential Chicago ties, was then able to get to the Deputy Commissioner of the Internal Revenue in Washington DC to obtain the beer permit, and it was granted on April 16, 1946. This incident amazed the Alcohol Tax Agents… frustrated them because they were unable to block the permit.

     Described as a "quiet operator" in the years after he received the beer permit, Fratto came under suspicion a few times for gambling. On April 26, 1948, law officials raided the Sports Arcade on Grand Avenue, arrested two employees, and confiscated gambling equipment. Two of Fratto’s associates in the club were fined, Hymie Wiseman and Al Cramm, but the charges against Fratto were dismissed by Judge C. Edwin Moore, who had served as a character witness for Fratto just months previous to the raid. Moore would later become a Chief Justice of the Iowa Supreme Court.

     On March 24, 1951 Fratto would be called before the Kefauver committee investigating organized crime and questioned about Dr. D.M. Nigro, a personal friend to Harry Truman and a Kansas City doctor who was the city commissioner of child hygiene in the reign of the old Tom Pendergast organization. The committee wanted to know why Nigro, who in 1940 was convicted and sentenced for violating the Narcotics law (which was later reversed), asked Fratto to raise $30,000 bail for two Kansas City gangsters, Charles and Gus Gargotta, in 1947. Fratto was also questioned about his association with Charles Gioe, Anthony Accardo, Paul Ricca, Louis Campagna, and illegal activities in Des Moines.

     Fratto’s name made the headlines again during the summer of 1954 when on August 18, Charles Gioe – Fratto’s friend and one time boss – was murdered in Chicago. Gioe, who had been sentenced to prison in 1944 for conspiring to extort more than a million dollars from the motion picture industry, had been struggling to gain back the influence he once enjoyed. On the night of the murder, Gioe had dined with Fratto associate Hymie Wiseman and another man. Later, as Gioe and Wiseman got into a friend’s car, another automobile pulled alongside. While one gunman blasted away at Gioe, another shot at Wiseman. Gioe was killed instantly, but Wiseman escaped… questioned by the police a couple days later.

     At the same time Wiseman was being questioned, gunmen struck again, this time killing ex-Capone bodyguard Frank "Diamond" Maritote. Once an associate of Gioe, Maritote was convicted and jailed on the same extortion charges that sent Paul "the Waiter" Ricca, Louis "Little New York" Campagna, Philip D’Andrea, and Johnny Roselli to prison. When police questioned Maritote about the murder, he told them Gioe was trying to muscle in on some building trade unions and had recently been asked to intercede in labor problems. This brought him into direct conflict with Joey Glimco and police theorized that it was this confrontation that resulted in both Gioe and Maritote’s deaths. Glimco was arrested and brought in for questioning but no one was ever indicted for the murders of either man.

     A month after Gioe’s murder Fratto was testifying before the Capehart Committee (which was investigating abuse and corruption in the home-repair industry), and when he left the stand was immediately arrested and taken in for questioning about the murder of Gioe. Authorities believed no one was closer to Gioe than Fratto, but they released Fratto shortly after, convinced he could shed no light on the matter. Meanwhile, Senator Capehart, a Republican from Indiana and chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, was determined to prosecute Fratto but not even he could gather enough evidence.

     Fratto had become a prime target, described in the June 4, 1955 Chicago Sun Times obituary entitled "Mob Leaders Bury Campagna in Lavish Funeral" as Campagna’s "protégé," and in August 1958 was called before yet another congressional committee – the McClellan Committee AKA the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor Management Field. Fratto was subpoenaed to appear with his personal financial records and he brought them in an attaché case. Though when the committee members asked to see the information, Lou refused and stated that "they didn’t subpoena the key." He was immediately threatened with a contempt of Congress citation.

     "My record doesn’t show what’s in that grip you brought," McClellan said. "I order you to open that briefcase and expose them."

     "I decline," Fratto replied.

     "I’m going to say very frankly I’m giving you warning," retorted McClellan. "If you continue to refuse, I’m going to recommend that the Senate cite you for contempt."

     Fratto again declined… returned the following day and stated the records he possessed represented all of his financial transactions since 1948. He then invoked his Fifth Amendment rights in refusing to hand them over to the committee… in refusing to answer any questions about his handling of Manhatten Brewing Company and Canadian Ace beverage operations.

     Described by the committee as a "former beer distributor and gambling figure," Fratto was now identified as a "labor relations advisor" and very influential with the teamsters union. He further irritated committee members by "taking the Fifth" or remaining mute to questions about his relationship with Jimmy Hoffa and to whether or not he had made contributions to Iowa Governor Herschel Loveless.

     Fratto was also questioned about one of his closest associates, the colorful 300 pound Robert B. "Barney" Baker – a versatile labor goon who ranged from New York’s waterfront to Miami, to the Kansas City and Omaha area. Baker, who Robert Kennedy referred to as Hoffa’s roving ambassador of violence, was also a partner to Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel and Meyer Lansky. Mollenhoff’s book Tentacles of Power states that "it was the bulky frame of Barney Baker that provided the best living dramatization of what was wrong with the Teamsters. The roster of Barney’s friends included the underworld’s worst, from Mike Coppola in New York to Gus Zapas in Indianapolis, Bugsy Segal in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Lew ‘Luigi Fratto’ Farrell in Des Moines, Angelo Meli in Detroit, John Vitale and Joe Costello in St. Louis, and Paul Dorfman and various Capone mob tigers in Chicago."

     Fratto took the Fifth on whether he had plans with Baker to establish a firm to wholesale liquor to Iowa state liquor stores. It was then that Senator Carl T. Curti s of Nebraska asked Fratto about his knowledge of Harold Gibbons and Jake More (Baker’s father-in-law). Fratto took the Fifth again and Curtis inquired if it would incriminate him to testify about his relationship with More. Fratto responded that the committee was operating on information about him that it had received from "space men with imaginations."

     McClellan reminded Fratto that if his operations were legal he should have no guilt in opening up the briefcase. Fratto shot back that he had once gotten himself in trouble with an earlier congressional committee by voluntarily providing them with his records.

     "What committee was that?" demanded Curtis.

     "That fellow with the coon hat (Estes Kefauver Tennessee committee investigating organized crime in interstate commerce)," snapped Fratto.

     McClellan gave a final warning to Fratto that he was looking at a contempt-of-the-Senate charge and then permitted him to leave the witness seat.

     The following month Robert Kennedy questioned James R. Hoffa in Washington DC about Fratto. Hoffa admitted that he knew Fratto and that he had negotiated a few union contracts with him but denied they were friends. The committee questioned Hoffa extensively about the teamsters’ efforts to move in on the Midwest Burlap Bag Company of Des Moines to take members away from the Textile Workers Union. They had earlier accused Fratto of serving as an advisor to Marvin Pomerantz in the case. While Fratto took the Fifth, records provided by the government showed telephone calls made between Fratto, Richard Kavner (an organizer for the Teamsters), James Hoffa, Barney Baker, and other Teamster officials, to the Midwest Burlap Bag firm. Yet Walter Sheridan, one of the McClellan committee’s outstanding investigators, introduced an affidavit from Pomerantz that stated Fratto was neither working for him nor the Teamsters’ local that was trying to steal members.

     In February 1959, the committee heard testimony again in Washington DC from Lionel Rowley, a business agent for Local 106 of the Carpenter’s Union. Rowley had been elected to the union’s annual convention as an anti-corruption candidate. When he arrived at the convention in St. Louis he was refused admittance… met by armed men who, according to John Hutchinson’s book The Imperfect Union (A History of Corruption in American Trade Unions), "threatened to send him back to Des Moines in a wooden overcoat." They stole notes from his briefcase that outlined his corruption charges, and later, Rowley was confronted by Fratto who, Rowley claimed, told him to keep his mouth shut and to "stop writing things down."

     Come 1964 (and according to Robert Weidrich’s January 16, 1964 Chicago Tribune article "Inside Story of Meeting to Fire Giancana") a meeting was held at the home of Tony Accardo to dismiss Giancana and take over the Chicago Crime Syndicate. Those present were Sam "Teetz" Battaglia, William "Willie Potatoes" Daddano, Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio, Rudolph "Rudy" Fratto, Frank "One-ear" Fratto, and Albert "Obie" Frabotta – all related by blood or marriage. The meeting was a success and Sam "Teetz" Battaglia would be boss.

     Fratto’s reign though, came to a halt in 1967 at the same time when Sam "Teetz" Battaglia would go to jail. Crime reporter Art Petacque, in his Chicago Sun Times Sunday, June 11, 1967 article "US Agents Launch Cleanup of Midwest Mob," reported Fratto as the #1 target of the government campaign ITAR (Interstate Travel in Aid of Racketeering). Also indicted were James DeGeorge of Indiana, Nicholas Civella of Kansas City, Frank "Frank Bell" Balistrieri of Wisconsin, Frank "Buster" Wortman of St. Louis, and Frank Zito from downstate Illinois.

     Petacque’s July 1, 1967 Chicago Sun Times article "Call Rosenberg Mafia Threat a Death Sentence" reported that "Allen Rosenberg, the 320 lbs. con man and scam operator, (who) threatened Iowa’s #1 boss, Louis ‘Cock-eyed’ Fratto… may have sentenced himself to death." His "body was found riddled with bullets (on) March 17, his wrists handcuffed in a car parked in front of 3712 W. Ainslie." As to the threat on Fratto, "one investigator (even) told The Sun-Times: ‘How could Rosenberg expect to have remained living after all that?’"

     Fratto would be indicted on murder as well as fraud but would die November 24 of that same year in Madison, Wisconsin of cancer.

Research Articles courtesy of Allan May

by Allan May

| Home | Books and Gifts | Photo Album | Mob Busters | Mafia Site Search |
to top

Copyright © 1998 - 2003 PLR International