January 24, 2020 – The DeBartolo name is synonymous with the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL, real estate wealth and in some circles, suspicion of mob ties. The 49ers will be making their seventh appearance in the Super Bowl next Sunday under the DeBartolo family ownership, currently one-point underdogs to the Kansas City Chiefs, according to the Las Vegas odds a little more than a week before the big game.
Edward DeBartolo, Sr., the family patriarch and architect of the family fortune, was one of the nation’s premier construction magnates during the second half of the 20th Century and a pioneer in the development of the modern day shopping mall. He was long suspected of a series of business connections to several high-powered organized crime figures – federal authorities believed he was helping them launder their illicit gains through his myriad of business holdings.
Purchasing the 49ers in the spring of 1977 for $18,000,000, he gave the team to his son, Edward DeBartolo, Jr. to run. DeBartolo, Jr. went on to lead the franchise to great heights, winning five Super Bowls in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, his sister, Denise DeBartolo and her husband John York have the controlling interest in the team. Their father died of pneumonia in December 1994.
DeBartolo, Sr. was born and raised in steel mill country, Youngstown, Ohio, a notoriously mobbed-up town in a notoriously-mobbed up region known as the Mahoning Valley. In terms of mafia turf, Youngtown was always split between the Cleveland and Pittsburgh crime families. Per an FBI dossier compiled in 1985, DeBartolo, Sr. was close to the Carabbia brothers, who represented the Cleveland mob in the area into the 1980s. Charlie (The Crab) Carabbia disappeared in 1980, presumed murdered in a beef with his counterparts in the Pittsburgh contingent.
The FBI also linked DeBartolo, Sr. in his heyday to major American mafia titans Meyer Lansky, Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante. Lansky was Jewish but considered a founding member of “La Cosa Nostra,” in the United States and acted as the “CFO” of the groups governing body, referred to as the “Commission,” until he passed away of natural causes in 1983. Marcello was the Godfather of the New Orleans mob and Trafficante headed the mob family in Florida, basing himself out of Tampa. Lansky, Marcello and Trafficante were all suspected of investing in land deals with DeBartolo, Sr. and the IRS investigated DeBartolo, Sr. owned banks and companies in South Florida for washing mob drug money.
Some mobsters used proximity to DeBartolo, Sr. as currency in their underworld affairs.
“I got it arranged so you’re going to sit with this guy, the new owner of the 49ers,” California mobster Jimmy (The Weasel) Fratianno was recorded on an FBI wire telling an associate he had setup an introduction to talk business.
Fratianno eventually became a government witness. His days in the mafia were spent in both the Los Angeles and Ohio crime syndicates, rising to acting boss for a short time in the L.A mob.
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