A local underworld power struggle has made Cleveland the most explosive city in America. And bombs are being set all over town – for every reason imaginable. One problem: Innocent people are being killed.
Edward P. Whelan
If the setting had not been so perilous, so stark real, the dialogue might have been fit for The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight, Jimmy Breslin's best-selling novel about bungling New York City hoodlums. An undercover agent from the Cleveland office of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Unit (ATF) of the Treasury Department was purchasing a homemade bomb from Theodore Ricci and his cousin, Richard Viccarone, on the West Side one day last year. Negotiations between the agent, Stephen Wells, and the pair went something like this:
Agent: Exactly how do I hook this up?
Ricci: It works by remote control. There are 12 sticks of dynamite. Seven sticks go under the vicinity of the driver, hooked to a blasting cap. The other five sticks go under the gas tank. That way the two units will go off together and the gas tank will also explode.
Viccarone: Do you really want to kill those guys?
Agent: Hell yes!
Viccarone: Well, this certainly will do the job.
Agent: What's the range of the transmitter?
Ricci: One and a half or two blocks .... But don't forget, I've had this unit for six months so you should check all the contact points for rust and corrosion and check the batteries to make sure they have not gone bad.
According to Wells' testimony at an evidentiary hearing in U.S. district court, Ricci also explained to him the need for a timer: "He said some years previously there had been an incident where two individuals were going to place a similar remote-control device. One … had ... the explosives and the other had the transmitter. That person [with the transmitter] pushed the button, murdering the person with the receiver and explosives. This happened because the person with the receiver and explosives had been talking to the authorities."
The ATF arrest of Ricci — known in the underworld as "Lardy," because of his girth — and cousin Viccarone is still considered a major coup in law enforcement efforts to conquer the spreading rash of bombings in Greater Cleveland. It is especially significant because Cleveland in recent years has qualified as the Bombing Capital of America. Last year, in fact, more bombs were placed and set off in Cleveland than in any other major city.
Because the definition of what technically comprises a bomb is often arbitrary, it is difficult to say exactly how many bombings or explosions were recorded last year. However, by anyone's opinion Greater Cleveland set the pace. According to ATF data, last year in the city of Cleveland alone there were 21 bombings and 37 in Cuyahoga County. In the northern Ohio territory covered by the Cleveland ATF office there were 54 bombings. Ohio reported 203 bombings in toto. As a result, in bombings at least, Greater Cleveland moved from the No. 7 spot to No. 1 in the nation.
Bombings have become so prevalent — almost a way of life — in Cleveland and its environs that the ATF, responsible for investigating illegal explosives and weapons, has just designated northern Ohio as a district headquarters. And it goes without saying the agency has beefed up its manpower in town. In addition to ATF personnel, there are the FBI and Cleveland police intelligence units which are concentrating on bombings they believe to be connected to organized crime.
Bombs are employed for various reasons, from settling lovers' quarrels to settling underworld power struggles. If they do nothing else, they make people sit up and pay attention. For, while Americans are becoming inured to street violence (whether they accept it or not), bombings, with their God-awful terror and indiscriminate destruction, retain their power to startle and shock — the last frontier of violence. A bombing is the ultimate violent act whether it be to kill, maim or warn. A murder — even a shotgun murder — receives scant attention anymore unless it involves someone affluent, prominent, colorful, notorious or the situation is bizarre, such as a shooting of a lawyer downtown in a street holdup.
A bombing, however, provokes headlines, regardless of the human or property destruction, because the act itself appears so aberrant and the possible shredding of flesh — innocent flesh — is so real. Of course, bombings still evoke images of gangsters at war and that always makes good copy. But the main reason they are so well publicized, as any reporter who has spent more than a week on the police beat can tell you, is that there is virtually no way to guard against them. Anyone can put together a bomb with equipment and ingredients that arc all very legal and as easily obtainable as Tootsie Rolls. And there is always the unspeakable possibility that anyone, deranged or not, can set off a bomb anywhere — in a crowd, a restaurant, bar, wherever — to avenge his real or imagined hurts.
Bombings are most difficult to solve. When they are successful, little or no traceable evidence is found. And when bombs do not detonate, components are rarely traceable to any individual. Bombers build their products with gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints. And apprehending a bomber at work is as rare as catching a forger in the act of writing a bad check.
Certainly, then, the arrests of Ricci and Viccarone have not halted bombings — there are other equally proficient practitioners in Greater Cleveland — but the apprehensions do cast some light on how and why Cleveland is going up in pieces.
To understand why Cleveland has become "Bomb City" and why law enforcement authorities are actively pursuing bombings here, particularly those that relate to a local organized crime power struggle in which, unfortunately, innocent people have become involved, it is easiest to start with the arrest of Ricci and Viccarone.
Ricci, 38, and Viccarone, 39, both pleaded guilty to one count of possession of a bomb and were sentenced to 10 years in the Atlanta federal penitentiary. Although they both have extensive criminal records dating back 20 years — armed robbery, rape and burglary are among the charges — they will be eligible for parole in the next three years. Had they not pleaded guilty and gone ahead with a trial they faced the possibility of a conviction on nine counts that certainly would have brought them more time in prison. Government testimony, directed by Steve Olah, U.S. Justice Department Organized Crime Strike Force prosecutor, would have revealed a lot about their activities and associations, and the public might have learned a lot more about why the city is shaking. (The two men might have been able to obtain immunity from prosecution had they revealed what jobs they performed and handed over a list of their customers. But they would not talk.)
In any event, the ATF investigation of Ricci and Viccarone is very revealing.
Last January ATF agent Stephen Wells learned from an informant that Ricci and Viccarone were, in fact, making, selling and, for an additional fee, "placing packages," as the endeavor is known. While agents had suspicions about the two, they had not been able to catch them. Moving quickly, the informant introduced Wells to Ricci at Ricci's house on West 93rd Street near Detroit Avenue. The informant, an acquaintance of Ricci's, vouched for Wells' criminal credentials. Wells represented himself as a hit-man from Chicago who needed some bombs because of an involvement in an internecine loan-shark war in his native city.
In further conversation that would do Breslin justice, Wells, who has a fair complexion and looks like he grew up in a Kansas wheat field, said his name was Colisimo. "Colisimo, eh?" asked a suspicious Ricci, "You don't look Italian."
Wells had his story prepared. "I'm the bastard son of a Mr. Colismo, a Chicago mob leader. I'm much to him like Chucky O'Brien was to Jimmy Hoffa — an adopted son." Ricci bought the story and Wells bought the bomb. As he plunked down $800, Ricci, working in brown cotton gloves, showed Wells how to set up the bomb, which included 12 sticks of dynamite, two blasting caps and a model airplane transmitter and radio receiver that allowed detonation by remote control. Wells parted with the device and agreed to purchase another bomb and to hire Ricci and Viccarone for some additional work.
The ATF built its case further when Wells telephoned Ricci on the pretense the bomb's transmitter was malfunctioning. Ricci (on tape, of course) described in detail how to test the device.
Wells asked Ricci and Viccarone to deliver the second bomb to a motel off the Ohio Turnpike at Toledo where he was staying, ostensibly away from Chicago on business. The ATF wanted a second purchase to strengthen its case in court.
ATF agents also kept the movements of Ricci and Viccarone under surveillance, tracking the pair to Erie, Pennsylvania, and Rochester, New York, where they met (presumably on business) with various hoodlums known to law enforcement authorities. One well-known convicted felon from Cleveland was also seen coming to and going from Ricci's house on West 93rd Street.
On March 5, the date of delivery for the second bomb, Ricci and Viccarone were tracked to a radio store on West 25th Street, where they purchased a battery for the time bomb they would sell to Agent Wells. When they finally left for Toledo, agents swooped into Ricci's house and found not only bombing supplies but also sophisticated burglary tools, including cutting torches, burglar-alarm splicers and even eavesdropping devices. (This led to a state charge against Ricci for possession of burglary tools. Federal agents and police believe that Ricci, considered to be highly skilled in electronics, was almost a master burglar. The bombing business itself is not that lucrative.)
While one group of agents was poring over Ricci's home possessions and another was tracking him and Viccarone on their way to Toledo, other agents stationed themselves at the Interstate 71 entrance to the Turnpike in Strongsville. When Ricci and Viccarone came upon the entrance, agents stopped them, found the bomb in the trunk of the car and arrested them.
Although agents could not directly prove that Ricci and Viccarone were involved in any specific bombings, they were satisfied that the pair had concocted and set off many sophisticated bombs the likes of which were used in various explosions in Greater Cleveland. And for a period right after their arrest, according to Sylvester "Bud" Yawkey of the Cleveland ATF office, there was a sharp decline in bombings hereabout.
While it may be impossible to pin any specific bombing on Ricci or Viccarone, or on anyone for that matter, there is no question that bombing has become much more exacting in recent years due to advances in chemistry and electronics.
Availability is another factor. Dave Edmisten, new district director of the ATF in Cleveland, points out that bomb components are sold legally. For instance, batteries, transmitters and receivers for remote-control devices can be purchased in any radio shop. Even fuses, chemicals, dynamite and powder can be legally purchased. Investigators also theorize that local bombers obtain dynamite stolen from construction sites in Greater Cleveland or coal mines in southern Ohio.
In most cases bombs are set for very specific reasons. And if the victim survives — because the bomb did not detonate properly, did not go off at all or was meant simply as a warning — he normally knows what the message was for, despite the oft-repeated quote that finds its way into the newspapers after each incident: "I haven't the slightest idea why anyone would want to do this. I don't have any enemies."
Bombs are employed in lieu of other weapons for many good reasons. They are much more dangerous than even a high-powered rifle and thus in many ways more accurate. Says Yawkey of the ATF: "A gun you aim; a bomb you don't." They are also relatively easy to set up. For one skilled in the trade, it takes only two minutes or so to connect a device to the ignition or axle of a car. A bomb is the perfect means to deliver a message at a construction site. You can hardly get your point across with a shot at a cinderblock wall.
Although evidence from bombings is hard to trace, perhaps the best reason for using a bomb is that it provides an alibi. A bomb can be set to go off at a time when the one who placed the package is sitting in a beerjoint with friends. A person with the right equipment (like the sophisticated kind used by Ricci and Viccarone) can also set off a bomb by remote control, watching his victim from a shielded spot and simply pressing a button.
"Then there is the psychological impact," says Doug Roller, head of the Organized Crime Strike Force in Cleveland. "If it is a warning, it imparts fear in the victim. And if it is meant to kill a person, it is a disgraceful way to go, a warning to others."
The motivation for a bombing is often difficult to determine, because the person it is directed at, if he lives, usually does not talk. Now and then, however, the perpetrators publicly boast of their handiwork. Most bombings in California, unlike Cleveland, are done by radicals. In January a left-wing fringe group calling itself the New World Liberation Front took credit for bombing a power station in northern California to protest the fact that a man from Mansfield, Ohio, froze to death this winter supposedly because his electricity was turned off when he did not pay his bill. The NWLF also puts out an underground newspaper with addresses and pictures of homes of California utility executives.
Cleveland's bombings, according to authorities, are primarily related to labor conflicts and organized crime. In some instances unions may want to force a contractor to use union labor on a construction site, or there might be a feud within the union itself. Authorities suspect that in such businesses as janitorial services and rubbish hauling some disputes have been marked by bombings. One afternoon in late 1975, police found three bombs at office buildings in Greater Cleveland where the building owners had just fired one janitorial service company and hired another. The bombs apparently were not set to go off, and police could not trace the devices to anyone. They could only speculate as to what the duds meant.
While labor disputes certainly have included bombings and bomb threats as weapons of war — and this kind of activity troubles the FBI, ATF and police — the real concern is bombings allegedly connected to hoodlum or organized crime activities, which have resulted in the deaths and near-deaths of innocent people.
Over the past few years a power struggle — some authorities say it centers on control of criminal endeavors, others say it is motivated by a kind of "King of the Hill" pride — has developed in Cleveland. Whatever the underlying cause, bombings have been the outward effect.
It is difficult to determine when the opening salvo of the war was fired, but certainly in the middle of the battlefield is Daniel James Patrick Greene, known to the newspapers as Danny Greene, former longshoreman, reputed mob enforcer, alleged bomber and labor consultant. Greene, who is called simply Patrick by his associates — a manifestation of a fierce Irish pride — is at the moment (sides and team scores change rapidly in this game) on top.
Greene has been the object of more assassination attempts than a South American dictator and somehow — miraculously — has survived each plot. Authorities believe he is the field marshal of one faction in the battle and therefore responsible for directing much of the bombing. Of course, they have no direct proof. And each lawman who keeps tabs on Mr. Greene has a different theory about the depth of his involvement.
Going back .... Danny Greene grew up in Collinwood, a tough East Side neighborhood where he lives today. He took over the longshoremen's union in Cleveland but was ousted after a conviction for falsifying union documents. His enemies say he ruled by muscle and coercion.
In the late Sixties Greene formed Emerald Industrial Relations, acting as labor consultant to construction companies that were having trouble with unions. It is said that he forced management to cough up money for labor peace. Of course, no one else has been willing to confirm this allegation publicly.
In the late Sixties Greene was summoned by large rubbish haulers in town to form the Cleveland Solid Waste Trade Guild, to be patterned after a similar arrangement in New York devised by a hoodlum named Johnny Dio (who showed up in Cleveland in early 1969 to give some advice). The leading rubbish haulers wanted a guild that would arbitrate routes and fees. The larger haulers would have obtained fixed rates and probably driven the smaller ones out of competition. Since not all the haulers could be brought into line and others were bought out by large conglomerates, Greene's rubbish guild did not last long. Yet, according to police sources, Greene tried to force several of the dissident haulers into line through intimidations. Some of the haulers were also the object of arson and bombings. In turn, Greene is alleged to have had the protection of the late Frank Brancato, a vicious underworld leader.
Greene allegedly employed Arthur Sneperger, an ex-longshoreman, to help with the enforcement of the guild. Sneperger made a statement to police in July 1971 in which he discussed bombings he and Greene supposedly were involved in together. Sneperger told police that in some instances he was paid according to the publicity his work received in next morning's newspaper. Three months after Sneperger gave his statement to police he was back working for Greene.
Among the rubbish haulers who would not agree to Greene's plan for a guild was Mike Frato, who at one time was so close to Greene that he actually named a child after him.
In October 1971 Sneperger was putting a bomb on the car of the recalcitrant Mike Frato on Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights. Apparently something malfunctioned. Sneperger was blown up. It is only conjecture that he was working for Greene.
While being the remote-control bomb on Frato's car, Sneperger left the electronic transmitter in his own auto, parked a block away. Federal agents theorize that someone may have casually walked over to Sneperger's car and pushed the bomb's transmitter button, killing Sneperger and at the same time warning Frato. This may have been the case Ricci was explaining to agent Wells — the one about the bomber who was blown up because he had talked to authorities. Could Sneperger's death have been made to look like an accident?
Whatever, a few months later Frato came after Greene and spotted him jogging at White City beach as he does most mornings. Frato shot at him and missed. That was a mistake. Greene returned the fire and put a bullet through Frato's head. He was indicted for manslaughter but acquitted; he pleaded self-defense.
With the rubbish haulers' guild falling apart, Greene sought other endeavors. Sources say he obtained a $75,000 loan through a West Side man, reputed to lie one of the city's largest bookmakers, and the late Alex "Shondor" Birns, an arbitrator for the numbers racket. Greene allegedly had worked for Birns in the mid-Sixties and once allegedly almost blew himself up while placing a package at a dissident clearing house near Lakeview and St. Clair.
As the story is told on the street, the man who prepared the device made the fuse too short and Greene did not have sufficient time to throw the bomb. It exploded, demolished his car and burst one of his eardrums. Greene now has poor hearing in his right ear.
Although Greene denies he sought the $75,000, sources insist he wanted the money to invest in, among other things, an after-hours spot with a well-known black hoodlum. The money somehow was spent and when Birns asked for repayment (he had obtained it from the New York underworld), Greene supposedly said no, that Shondor owed it to him for the work Greene had performed for him while Birns was in prison.
Shondor reportedly repaid the loan himself and then vowed to collect the money, one way or another, from Greene. Among those supposedly retained by Birns to finish off Greene were Mo "The Mechanic" Kiralv, a professional bomber, and Charlie Broeckels, a reputed hit-man in prison on a number of charges. On one occasion police driving by Greene's house actually spotted some hoodlums surveying Greene's premises. On another occasion, Broeckels is alleged to have sniped at Greene while he was jogging. The gunfire missed. A few weeks later, someone placed a bomb of plastic military explosives on Greene's Toyota. The device did not explode but rolled off the rear axle of the car, which was being driven by a Greene aide.
Greene supposedly promised in public to send it back to the "old bastard who sent it" — Shondor Birns.
March 29, 1975 is a momentous day in the history of Cleveland's underworld. For 40 years Shondor Birns, 69, the son of immigrant Hungarian Jews, had been the city's most colorful hoodlum, a man given to a flamboyant lifestyle, wining and dining with the city's top politicians, for instance, while still maintaining his role as enforcer in the black-operated numbers racket. Birns was a tough guy who had killed people and had others killed. So when he left Christy's Lounge at West 25th Street and Detroit Avenue as Holy Saturday throngs were filling nearby St. Malachi's Church, Birns could have been under surveillance by any number of enemies who wanted him removed. He got into his Mark IV, carefully checking all the car's burglar alarms and security devices. He turned on the ignition. There was a pause of a second or two. Then the car exploded, the shock waves breaking windows upwards of a mile away. Birns was torn in two. While there are many theories about the who and why for Birns' demise, there is no concrete proof about anything. One theory holds that the blacks wanted Birns out of the numbers and Birns would not get out — peacefully. Another theory, of course, holds that Birns' severest critic, Mr. Greene, was seeking retribution.
Whatever the reason, two months after Birns' death, on May 12, Greene was sleeping on the second floor of his Collinwood apartment with his young girlfriend when a crash came through the front window of the storefront below. As Greene stood up to look, the bomb that had come through the window exploded. The girl was hurled out of bed but escaped serious injury, shielded by the bed itself. Greene became wedged between a refrigerator and the floor. He walked away with only a few broken ribs.
The Lord must, indeed, have a higher calling for Danny Greene. The next morning police found a slab of tetrytol, a powerful military explosive, wrapped to a three-gallon container of gasoline. The fuse on this bomb had not been set properly when it was placed at Greene's rear door. The thrust from the detonated bomb blew the second device across Greene's backyard. Had it gone off, says Lt. Edward Kovacic, head of the Cleveland Police Scientific Investigation Unit, "half of Collinwood would have gone up."
A few days later police charged Mo Kiraly and Joseph Gallo in the bombing. The pair had been linked over the years to Birns' vendetta against Greene. A car they had been driving in Greene's neighborhood in the weeks before the bombing was seen at the time of the explosion on Greene's street. Police traced the car to Developers Unlimited, a Beachwood land development company where Gallo was a salesman. (Developers Unlimited president Sam Vecchio, himself questioned by police years ago in a union bombing investigation, is currently under federal indictment in Detroit for perjury.)
Although Gallo and Kiraly left Cleveland after the bombing, police found a veritable ammunition dump at Gallo's Warrensville Heights apartment, including ammo for shotguns, rifles and handguns. Kiraly eventually surrendered to police and was convicted of the bombing and is now serving his sentence in prison. Gallo, who was picked up a year later in Florida, was found not guilty because a witness could not positively identify him as being in the car on the night of the bombing. He also is in prison serving time for a parole violation.
Greene, who wears scruffy clothes and shows no visible signs of having profited from his involvement in rackets, leads a life that only a Hollywood scriptwriter could conjure up for an underworld character. Wearing mostly green clothes, using a pen with green ink, Greene fashions himself a kind of Robin Hood of his Collinwood neighborhood, moving from apartment to apartment to escape his enemies (and presumably the law) while at the same time handing out money and favors to needy residents. The myth of his indestructibility seems to please him; he apparently takes delight in boasting that he dislikes Italians and that he is one Irishman the Italians have yet been unable to stop.
Shortly after the last bombing attempt on his life. Greene rehoisted the Irish tricolor on a flagpole in front of the small house trailer where he conducts his business affairs. The flagpole is topped by a Celtic cross and a sign on the trailer predicts, "Future Home of the Celtic Club."
Caught up in his roots, Greene is a hungry reader of Irish history, who dubs his non-Irish lieutenants with Irish names, gives them Irish history to read and then quizzes them on names, dates and places. His bible, so to speak, is Leon Uris' best-seller, Trinity, a fictional but true-to-life account about Irish oppression at the hands of the bloody British.
Greene, say police sources, is still involved in protection schemes and muscling and, ironically, working with Italian friends. And while he is pursued by both enemies and police and disliked by many, few underestimate him. When Ralph Sperli, one of the top criminal lawyers in Cleveland, was defending Gallo in the bombing case, he sparred with Greene during cross examination. He tried to show that Greene was hardly an Irish altar boy. Greene, now 47, did not want any other interpretation to reach the jury. They were like two prizefighters sizing each other up.
Sperli: You had a company, sir, called Emerald Consultants, is that correct?
Greene: I had a company called Emerald Enterprises. At one time it may have been Emerald Consultants.
S: Would you explain what services were offered?
G: It's hard to be specific. If you're talking about labor-relations work itself, that was a very minimal aspect of what I do.
S: Let's just talk about your company, Emerald Enterprises. How did you make your money?
G: Ask me a specific question and I will give you an answer.
S: What services did you offer ... we are asking what you did for a living, Mr. Greene.
G: Consultation work, sometimes with companies. I gave them advice in their problems with unions. There's other enterprises I'm involved with. What do you mean, what do I do?
S: What was your function?
G: I would give advice.
S: Advice as to what, sir?
G: I was involved with companies giving consultations .... I would give it to persons who owned the company who wanted some advice.
S: Did your occupation encompass violence of any sort?
G: Are you talking about May 12 of '75 [the date when Greene's apartment was bombed]?
S: Did your occupation as labor consultant encompass violence?
G: Your honor [addressing the judge], I can't understand the question.
S: Are you familiar with the term extortion?
G: I don't know what you mean.
S: Did you ever indicate to any of those persons you consulted that violence would be forthcoming unless your fee was paid?
G: Certainly not.
S: Before entering your automobile, practically daily, would you check the area of the hood and fenders?
G: On certain occasions when certain people were in the area, I may.
Sperli then digressed. He asked Greene if he knew John Nardi, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local No. 410, the Vending Machine Service Employes Union, reputed to he a top figure in organized crime in Cleveland. Greene nodded his assent.
S: Now, sir, did you ever make any statements to Mr. Nardi or any other persons during 1975 or 1976 to the effect that you were going to take over the city?
Judge: You may answer the question.
G: Take over the city in what way?
S: City of Cleveland.
G: [You mean] run for mayor?
Greene may not be running for mayor but there is little question about his knowing John Nardi, who visited Greene when he was recuperating in Shaker Medical Center from the May 12, 1975 attempt on his life.
As Nardi was huddling with Greene and as lawmen were furiously probing into the Birns and Greene bombings, another device was placed at the Mayflower Tavern in Oakwood, where Kiraly was often seen. The bomb was found on May 18, not even a week after Greene's apartment was blown up. Although it was not wired to detonate, a note was attached, obviously a warning to Kiraly that someone was after him — "Give us Kiraly or we'll blow up your garbage."
Kiraly surrendered to police in June but this did not blunt the animosity, it only heightened the action, leading police and federal agents to believe that sides were being formed for the savage power struggle that began the following year. Investigators contend they know who is involved in the bombings, killings and attempted murders but have little hard evidence and, it goes without saying, no witnesses. There are as many theories about the motivation for this violence as there are individuals with some knowledge of the conflict. When asked about a power struggle last fall by The Cleveland Press Nardi, considered to be the leader of one faction, demurred: "That's ridiculous. What's there to fight over?"
That is a question that begs for an answer. Part of the answer may lie in the history of organized crime in Cleveland, dating to the bloody '30s when two strong factions emerged. To settle a disagreement over control, Frank Milano, head of the Cleveland — and, some say, national — syndicate, left town for Los Angeles and Mexico City. According to terms of the agreement, Frank's brother, Anthony Milano, became consigliere (arbitrator and counselor) and another faction was given the right to choose the capo (boss).
The accord seemed to satisfy everyone. Big Al Polizzi became capo, and when he left Cleveland for Florida years ago he passed the sceptre to John Scalish. Scalish, who ran the Buckeye Cigarette Service, a vending machine distributor, attended the now-legendary gathering of Mafia dons in Apalachin, New York, in 1957. He died, at 63, last May during heart surgery at University Hospital before a direct successor had been chosen. The source of Scalish's strength had come from labor unions, big-stakes gambling and bookmaking, loan sharking and money paid to the Cleveland syndicate from profits skimmed from Las Vegas casinos that Cleveland mobsters helped underwrite in the '40s. Unlike some mob leaders, Scalish was known to be puritanical by nature and opposed involvement in narcotics and prostitution.
With Scalish dead and Milano now in his early 90s and not always alert, a power vacuum naturally developed. The "Old Man," as Milano is affectionately known, reportedly sought to have one of his sons inherit his position of respect and counsel at his death. However, authorities say chances of that appear slim for several reasons. Among them are the fact that son Peter is in a federal prison for importing narcotics and son Carmen, a friendly Cleveland lawyer, was recently indicted by a county grand jury in the workmen's compensation fraud scandal.
The "Old Man" himself is an almost deified figure on Mayfield Road in Little Italy. As head of the Italian-American Brotherhood Club, each Tuesday he hosts exquisite dinners where the food is not only bountiful hut also excellent. Lawyers, politicians, businessmen and judges gather at these weekly rituals. Milano has said in the past he started the IAB Club in the '20s as a place where Italian-Americans could gather to discuss common social, business and political problems. Today at these dinners, Milano is greeted in a back room by associates who whisper in Brando-like tones and kiss the hand of the "Old Man" as a gesture of respect; when Milano walks into the dining room all stand in silence.
Also out of respect, a few years ago some of Milano's friends printed his philosophical sayings in an eight-page, pocket-size booklet. The quotations of Anthony Milano are, to say the least, sage. While many appear as thoughtful as the quotations of the late Chairman Mao — the Chinese leader's quotations were printed in a similar-size booklet — Milano has his own unique outlook on life. In settling disputes, underworld or otherwise, Milano certainly has applied this philosophy which, boiled down, simply includes adherence to a strict sense of discipline, trust, honest and, above all, silence. Of course, such an ideal could lead to some heavy-handed consequences. A sampler of Anthony Milano:
He who lives in a mansion must realize that he also may live in a stable.
Never belittle any man, for as small as you may think he is, he may someday be useful.
It is better to educate and discipline the mass rather than to punish them.
Losing wealth, nothing is lost; losing health, something is lost; losing trust, all is lost.
Weapons and wealth are good only in the hands of those who know how to handle them.
If you want to live in peace, look, listen and be quiet.
Study first the penal code, and then go swimming.
Milano may be a very wise, considerate and ingenious man, but his age prevents his being influential today. With his associate, John Scalish, out of the picture, Milano has not been able to designate a successor and have his choice respected.
According to law authorities who study Cleveland underworld activities, there are two principal factions seeking power and influence. One theory holds that James Licavoli, age 72, who is more commonly known as "Jack White," has sought to gain control. Licavoli, who has ties to the Detroit mob, is said to be involved in Cleveland loan sharking and gambling operations.
Licavoli, who refused to discuss his knowledge of organized crime when summoned to the Kefauver Senate subcommittee hearings in 1951, has a record dating to 1925. Considering his importance, he must have been embarrassed last year when he and two associates were arrested at Halle's in Severance Center for allegedly changing the price tag on a pair of trousers. Licavoli seems to have been the one holding the pants, so to speak, when the others made the change. The case was dropped by the store because of the difficulty in getting a conviction. Among Licavoli's so-called lieutenants are Eugene "The Animal" Ciasulo, Joe Gallo, Allie Calabrese, Salvatore Carcione and Pasquale "Butchy" Cisternino.
If the theory about Licavoli seeking power holds water, these "Young Turks," under his direction, began after Scalish's death to muscle in on independent loan sharks, bookmakers and extortion operations.
If one is to adhere to the two-faction theory, the opposition to Licavoli would be John Nardi, nephew of Anthony Milano. Nardi, according to the theory, was forced to counterattack when Licavoli and his associates began making noises. Therefore, it was logical that. his relationship with Danny Greene would grow warmer. Greene had been fighting with the same team members that Nardi now found himself up against.
A somewhat different theory of the latest bloodshed holds that Licavoli and Nardi have no differences, that Licavoli is not up to an all-out war for leadership. If this supposition is correct, the movements of the Young Turks were of their own accord and without Licavoli's blessing. There is some street talk to support the view that Eugene Ciasulo, until he was severely wounded by a bomb last year, was leading the younger members of Licavoli's faction. His group, according to this logic, had been promised a chunk of certain activities upon the death of Scalish but the promises were never kept. Thus their overt actions in loan sharking and the like and their moves against Greene and Nardi. Another theory is that both sides were prepared to make peace after Scalish's death and jointly take a stand against black thugs who had taken over an increased amount of narcotics and numbers. Bui when the first, bomb blew, the deal was off.
At the moment observers of this abstruse and mercurial subculture believe that John Nardi has the upperhand. His position as secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters Local 410, the vending machine service employes union, is in itself very influential. The union earns money by collecting fees for each cigarette, candy or other vending machine it services. It also arbitrates territorial disputes between the various vending-machine companies.
Nardi, 59, has never been convicted of a crime, although he has been indicted a number of times and has been under investigation by the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Organized Crime Strike Force, to name just a few. In 1971 he was indicted by a federal grand jury after agents raided his home and union office and found two football pool tickets in possession. The government sought to prove that Nardi was involved in a widespread gambling ring. He was cleared of the charges.
A federal grand jury in Miami indicted Nardi in 1975 on charges of conspiracy to smuggle marijuana into the United States. Also indicted was Cleveland insurance-man Morton Franklin, who has been indicted in the Northern Ohio Bank case for fraud. Nardi, who was allegedly supposed to raise the cash for the marijuana purchase, and Franklin were found not guilty last year in the Florida case, as were the other five co-defendants. The main witness was killed in a private plane crash shortly before he was scheduled to testify. Testimony also linked Nardi and other defendants to CIA operations. Nardi was successfully defended by Cleveland lawyer William Summers of the firm Summers, Potts & Burke, which also has served as counsel to Danny Greene.
Nardi is closely tied with Clevelander Dominick Bartone, who also allegedly has had ties with the CIA. Bartone has been involved in gun-running operations for which he has served time. Bartone was convicted in March in federal court for fraud stemming from a loan he allegedly obtained under false pretenses from the now-defunct Northern Ohio Bank.
Bartone, 62, has owned various heavy-duty hauling firms, including American Concrete builders. This company holds the deed on the University Heights house in which Nardi lives, perhaps because of Nardi's past income-tax troubles. The IRS in 1974 claimed Nardi owed the government $35,000 in back taxes.
Nardi's name once again came to the attention of law authorities when right before his marijuana-smuggling trial last year in July a bomb almost killed Eugene Ciasulo, reputed at the time to be a leader of the insurgent anti-Nardi clique. The bombing, shortly after the death of John Scalish, was considered to be an attempt to eliminate the Ciasulo forces before they gained additional strength.
It happened this way:
On July 21, 1976, Ciasulo, 46, a burly ex-high-school football player, alighted from his Mark IV at 1:30 a.m. and strolled toward the front door of his Richmond Heights house. As he reached the door, the bomb, neatly secured in a nearby flowerpot, exploded, whipping shrapnel of ball bearings and roofing nails through his intestines. Ciasulo managed to live.
According to police, the bomb was connected to a wire that stretched across the street to an open field where it was attached to an electric plunger or "hell box." Police theorize this may have been a decoy. The real wire, connected to a hand-held electric detonator, was stretched into an adjacent backyard where a would-be assassin could watch Ciasulo's arrival and perfectly time the detonation. Police suspect that the bomber then rolled up his wire and fled through backyards, leaving phony evidence to divert the first policemen on the scene.
Obviously police and federal agents suspected that Nardi and Greene knew something about the bombings. But, once again, they had no evidence. In any event, Ciasulo left for Florida shortly after he was discharged from Richmond Hospital. He returned periodically throughout the fall to settle business affairs and on September 26, while his house was vacant, it was bombed again. A garage door was shattered.
Ciasulo had left town acknowledging to associates that there was nothing worth battling for in Cleveland. However, he reportedly was angered, not so much that someone almost killed him, hut that the assailant would make an attempt that could have endangered his wife and children.
After the first bombing of Ciasulo, the street war broke out all over.
On August 14, police arrested Kevin McTaggert, 20, and Keith Ritson, 29, associates of Danny Greene, on the West Side. They had been cruising early in the morning in a car camouflaged to look like an unmarked detective's car. A shotgun and .45 automatic were recovered, along with a city map with circles repeatedly drawn around the homes and businesses of such people as Ciasulo and Allie Calabrese and ex-Teamster and extortionist Joe Kovach. Kovach was mysteriously shot to death the next week.
While police were trying to piece together what this all meant, Leo "Lips" Moceri, an Akron loan shark and cousin to James Licavoli, quietly disappeared. Moceri had been on the payroll of Bartone's trucking company, but police theorize he had had a falling out with Bartone and Nardi.
Moceri's disappearance came in late August while Nardi was still on trial in Florida. There is much speculation about Moceri's disappearance, because he reportedly had many enemies. One theory, held by many police and federal agents, goes like this: Moceri at 70 was still considered a very mean man who operated his loan sharking through muscle and intimidation. Close to Moceri was George Morgan, whose cars were blown up on successive days in 1975. Morgan was also known to associate with Shondor Birns and was seen in Cleveland with him at the Theatrical Restaurant shortly before Birns was killed. Morgan also testified against Danny Greene in the trial of Joe Gallo, insisting that Greene told him he was going to frame Gallo and Kiraly with the rap of bombing Greene's apartment. Morgan is in jail on a state charge of fraud in connection with the home-improvement business in Akron. He also is the focus of a widespread investigation by the Akron FBI and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for involving banks in fraudulent loans for home contractors.
As de facto leader of Akron underworld interests, Moceri was allegedly seeking to take a leadership role in Cleveland with Licavoli. He supposedly came to Murray Hill in late August to meet with Licavoli and others. But he was never seen again. On September 1 the Akron police department received an anonymous phone call that the car reported missing by Moceri's girlfriend earlier in the week — one leased by Bartone's company — was in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn in Fairlawn. FBI agents and local police believe the car had been there for about a week; the locks of the car doors and trunk were punched out to make it appear as if it had been stolen. All prints were dusted from the car but found in the trunk in a one-inch pool of blood were Moceri's golf clubs.
Moceri's disappearance fueled the fires.
Late at night on September 10, Nardi left the Italian-American Brotherhood Club on Mayfield and, as he entered his car, shots burst from the railroad bridge overhead. One bullet from the high-powered rifle pierced the windshield of his new Buick; four slugs hit the front door and one went ripping into the night air. Nardi waited until the shooting was over and drove home. He did not report the shooting and when authorities learned about the incident on the next day Nardi's car was already fully repaired. There was not a trace of a bullet.
Who did the shooting? It is easy to speculate that it was an enemy of Nardi or Greene. One of the young insurgents?
Two weeks after Nardi's near-miss, as Joe Gallo was on trial for bombing Danny Greene's apartment, someone struck at an enemy of Nardi and Greene. On the morning of September 24, Frank Pircio, 50, an unemployed factory worker, started his neighbor's 1975 Lincoln Continental. It was parked in Pircio's driveway because the neighbor, Allie Calabrese, Jr., then 33, had no driveway at his own house across the street.
There was a bomb, made of plastic explosives (the same kind that killed Shondor Birns) beneath the car. When Pircio moved the vehicle, the bomb went off. Pircio was blown apart. He became the first innocent victim in the gang war.
Calabrese, who has a long criminal record for burglary and bank robbery, was picked up for questioning. But police learned nothing, other than the fact that Calabrese was associated with the faction opposed to Nardi.
After Ciasulo’s empty home was blasted again two days later, police questioned Greene’s associates, McTaggert and Ritson. The pair said nothing and police could prove nothing.
There are some threads tying these bombings together and, of course, there are avenues that lead nowhere. For instance, police know that various cars leased through Ellis Lewin, a Cleveland Heights auto-lease broker, have been blown up. But trying to connect each of these bombings of Lewin’s cars is near-impossible. The fact remains that Lewin deals primarily in luxury cars and has many prominent clients. Persons with dubious endeavors can often afford to lease — perhaps it's part of the underworld macho syndrome — flashy autos. Yet, it does not follow that these characters necessarily associate with each other. "There is no correlation between the three leased cars that were bombed," contends Lewin. "People don't bomb cars; they bomb people."
Dozens of other bombings appear not to be related, bombings that do not grab headlines: bombings of bars by snubbed patrons, bombings of scorned lovers, bombings of nonunion construction sites, bombings of small stores and houses and telephone booths and cars. But they all keep investigators busy.
Police and federal agents continue to pry into the professional undertakings meant for underworld characters. They compile details on the lives of the victims and the suspects, hoping for some small break. It is known, for instance, that Theodore Ricci, the professional do-it-yourself bomb maker, once was a prison cellmate of Shondor Birns. And it is known that some of the sophisticated devices used in the bombings during the power struggle appear to involve some of the handiwork of Ricci and Viccarone.
Will all this bombing continue? Will Cleveland retain the title of "Bomb City"? Even these questions bring conflicting answers. Some sources believe there are attempts to settle the disputes and still others say that both sides feel so antagonistic that only more bloodshed can avenge past transgressions. We can only wait — and listen.
Wednesday, September 05, 2012 10:41:00 AM by Anonymous