by The Other Guy | April 30, 2020
The small city of Steubenville, Ohio, with a current population of 17,800 (its 1940 high was 37,000), has always been recognized as having a “mafia” presence.
Since as early as 1915, numerous Calabrian factions operated what amounted to “Black Hand” gangs who ran extortion and shakedown rings. They were also into kidnapping for ransom.
As the years passed and they became better established, these early Calabrese racketeers were well poised to capitalize on the advent of Prohibition, enacted in 1920. As their brethren across the country did as well, Steubenville’s hoodlums ran illicit alcohol stills, smuggled liquor, and ran speakeasies to liquefy the town’s populous and keep em “wet.”
Another major racket operated was the “Italian” lottery, which received its winning “number” from Italy weekly.
These two primary rackets sustained the regime until the repeal of Prohibition in 1932, at which time they made a major shift into all forms of big-time gambling; policy, dice, cards, slot machines, and horse and sports bookmaking.
Fun Fact: Before Las Vegas, and the Islands became major gambling mecca’s, little ole’ Steubenville, Ohio, was considered one of the premier casino locations in the country. Although technically illegal, with a wink of their eye, crooked politicians allowed much of the gambling to go on unimpeded. Commonly known as “Little Chicago”, it was a largely lawless little city for decades. Indeed most of the croupiers and card dealers that staffed those first Las Vegas casinos had been transplanted from Steubenville.
Another interesting fact was that the Cellini brothers, Dino and Eddie, hailed from Steubenville. The Cellini’s were mob associates and gambling experts who were very closely affiliated with Meyer Lansky and his crew. They managed and oversaw various gambling casino’s in Las Vegas, the Bahamas and London, England for Lansky and the mob for years.
Utilizing their prior control over the illicit-liquor market, they also expanded or converted previous speakeasy, backdoor-watering holes into legitimate businesses. By the late 1940’s they owned and operated numerous fully-licensed restaurants, nightclubs, bars and taverns. They listed many of these locations as their “legit” employment for the taxman.
Paramount among the many Calabrian criminals operating the area was Vincenzo Tripodi. Arguably the most notorious racketeer in the Steubenville area. With his “compare” Cosmo Quattrone, Tripodi came to control, and was widely recognized as the dominant underworld power in the area.
What follows is Tripodi’s in-depth biography and a storyline of their Steubenville regime or “outfit.”
Vincenzo (Jimmy Tripod) Tripodi – aka “James Trepod”, “Jimmy T”, was born on December 28, 1899, in a Little Village known as Archi in Reggio Calabria, to Ignazio Tripodi and Josephine Morabito.
He entered the United States at Philadelphia, PA., in 1921, and applied for naturalization in 1936 and again in 1940, but was denied on the grounds of “lack of good moral character.” Despite his previous police record Tripodi was naturalized on April 16, 1947, in the Southern District of Ohio.
After first settling in Ridgeway, Pennsylvania, Tripodi moved to Steubenville Ohio, where he lived at 132 North Sixth Street, and later at 201 Broadway. By the 1940’s he, his wife and family would relocate to 638 Broadway Avenue where he would reside for the rest of his life.
At 27-years-old he married the former Amelia (nee’ Buffone), born in Cosenza, (Calabria), Italy, in 1926 at Steubenville, Ohio. She was commonly known by the Americanized named of Mabel. They would have four children together; 2 boys and 2 girls.
He also had a brother Giuseppe (Joe) who operated a Steubenville bar he named the Naples Lounge in South Third Street.
FBI # 2235508, SBPD # 915, IN&S #C-6530007
Jimmy stood 5-foot 8-inches tall and weighed a solid 165 to 175 pounds, with dark brown eyes, black hair, and an olive complexion. He was not considered an ostentatious guy. He typically always drove a new Oldsmobile but lived in a small modest home.
Jimmy Tripodi was first listed as the proprietor of a poolroom. He later opened up a popular eatery known as the Venetian Cafe, 124 North Sixth Street in Steubenville. This location also doubled as his de facto headquarters for years. But he also held hidden ownership in many other restaurants and bars through the years, *see below.
He was considered one of the leaders of the Calabrian mafia in that area from the late 1930’s through the 1970’s era. Maybe “The” leader. Tripodi was originally thought to be a “capo di decina” operating under the Cleveland’s mobs flag because he was known to be close to the Bosses Frank (Ciccio) and Anthony (Nino) Milano.
But if so, he also held very close associations with Pittsburgh mafiosi as well, including boss John LaRocca and capo Antonio (Tony) Ripepi. He also had close relations with the New York Genovese Family powerhouse capo Rocco Pellegrino of Westchester, New York. Both Ripepi and Pellegrino were top Calabrian mafiosi in their time.
Several previously reliable FBI informants claimed he was actually a “capodecina” operating under the authority of the Pittsburgh Family. And that he had several mafia soldiers in his crew.
In fact to this end, onetime Cleveland underboss Leo (Lips) Moceri confided to a close associate who was also an FBI informant, that Tripodi was in fact a “capo di decina” reporting to John LaRocca, and that Tripodi had several soldiers under his command. So it seems that he was indeed “with” the Pittsburgh crew.
Side Note: The distance between Cleveland and Steubenville is 96 miles. The distance between Pittsburgh and Steubenville was only 40 miles. So it makes sense that Pittsburgh would have claimed him and the area as their own.
Side Note: The FBI reported that he’d make occasional trips to visit Tony Milano at the Italian-American Club on Mayfield Road in the Little Italy district of Cleveland. Probably to deliver a share of certain racket operations under Tripodi’s control that were partnered with the Cleveland crew.
It seems to me that Tripodi made it his business to always stay closely aligned primarily with the Calabrian factions of the mafia throughout his career.
Over the years informants repeatedly stated that Tripodi fully controlled the Steubenville, Ohio area, and exerted some influence over certain sections of West Virginia as well. The FBI duly noted he was at least an “official” inducted member of Cosa Nostra.
Side Note: It is well-documented that West Virginia housed a large contingent of Calabrian racketeers thought to belong to the Camorra or “Societa Honore”, the Calabrian version of the Sicilian mafia during the early 1900s into at least the 1940s. They were considered among the early Black Hand extortion gangs… “La Mano Nera”.
At any rate, Jimmy Tripodi was well known and well respected by other crews in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Youngstown.
He maintained a personal friendship with the likes of Joe Sica, Lou Volpe, and John LaRocca of Pittsburgh, as well as Jimmy DeNiro and Paul Romeo of Youngstown. He was respected and generally well-liked.
The FBI said he also stayed in close contact with Steve Zoccoli, a top member of a mafia Family out in San Jose, California. It was said that Tripodi was the godfather to Zoccoli’s child.
This crew operated all the typical rackets of the day which includedliquor bootlegging, lottery-numbers, card and dice games, shylocking and extortion, business infiltration, and cigarette smuggling.
Side Note: In the early years before being absorbed into the Sicilian Mafia, some Calabrian gangsters operated “cat houses”, or houses of prostitution as well, but were prohibited from engaging in this type of activity after their entrance into the organization.
Listed as his top assistant was Cosmo Quattrone who operated from a watering hole he named The Baron.
Tripodi and his followers held heavy gambling interests over the years which included; the Jungle Inn Casino in Youngstown, Ohio (with other Pittsburgh mafiosi). He and Quattrone also partnered in floating casino games held variously in the basement of The Rex Cigar Shop, and in The Midway Restaurant & Lounge.
They additionally operated a string of bars, eatery’s and licensed establishments that he held in the names of close associates, most of whom were mob guys themselves.
Among the appx. 20-30 known associates in the crew of Tripodi included members of what local law enforcement referred to as the now-defunct early “Black Hand” gang. Most were Calabrese.
Some of the men listed below were thought to have been actual “soldiers” of the crew, the remainder being categorized as mob “associates”:
• Cosimo (Cosmo) Quattrone – FBI # 1028886 – born in 1900 in the same exact town in Calabria as Tripodi (Archi). Cosmo was considered his closest aide and partner. Most easily described as a “second in command” to Tripodi, Quattrone was at least a “made” soldier. He owned a wholesale grocery, a tavern, and a cigar store that fronted as a gambling den and numbers drop. He was thought to have been related to top Pittsburgh capo Antonio (Tony) Ripepi. Tripodi also had cousins named Quattrone, so there could have been a distant blood relation there as well.
• Philip Mattucci – named as his right-hand man who ran the 132 Club, a gambling den that specialized in nightly Barbut games. Possibly a member, certainly a top “associate member” in this regime.
• Joseph Tripodi – his brother, who ran the Naples Lounge at 162 S. Third Street.
• Joseph Tegano – another convicted gambler who operated the Fort Steuben Musical Bar along North Fourth Street. Suspected soldier. And Rocco Augustine who was a partner in the Musical Bar with Tegano.
• John Tegano – Joe’s brother, ran the Wildwood Tavern at 605 South Street. And Bruno Tegano, a third brother who ran Bruno’s Cafe at 500 N. Seventh Street. A known dice game operator, and suspected soldier.
• Robert (Rab) Carducci – who partnered and managed Tripodi’s interests in the Venetian Bar and Restaurant.
• Anthony Panebianco – ran The Townhouse Restaurant at 602 Commercial Street, Mingo Junction, Ohio.
• Ernest Giannamore – ran the Diamond Cafe at 155 N. Fourth Street.
• Michael Sidari – actually operated the Rex Cigar Store at 523 Market Street, a “blind” used as a policy-lottery location. He wrote numbers in partnership with Americo Carducci, another Tripodi operative.
Other associates and numbers writers at the Rex included:
• Albert Rea and Polly Rutkowski.
• Joseph (Presto) Prestia – in 1928 he was arrested for arson. Considered a close associate of Tripodi and Quattrone.
• Angelo Antonucci – ran various gambling dens offering dice, cards and the Greek game Barbut on behalf of Quattrone, including the Midway Club and 132 Club. Top associate and overseer.
• Joseph Monteleone – strong-arm, and gambler. Charged in an arson case with Quattrone and Joe Prestia. Later dismissed.
• Adamo Pirgolini – another minion of this crew.
• Pasquale (Patsy) Barilla – ran the Bar-B-Bar at 718 Market Street.
• Frank DiButch – another gambling operative, strong arm, and lottery racketeer. Charged with murder in the same case as Tripodi and Quattrone.
• John (Stogie) DeSaro – ran the Hi-Hat Tavern at 167 N. Fourth Street.
…and their associate Charles Greenberg.
It was thought that Tripodi was also connected with these area businesses: Paul’s Bar & Grill, Vets Cigar Store, and Jefferson Beer Distributing Co.
Regarding his criminal record, Tripodi was a very active hoodlum during his early years, listing seven arrests before 1944:
1925 – violation of liquor laws at Bloomfield, Ohio. (bootlegging)
1926 – carrying a concealed weapon (6 months in the workhouse – suspended)
1927 – concealed pistol (3 years – suspended term)
April 1927 – first-degree homicide. In December of 1927, he was acquitted of the Dominick Spinetti murder after a sensational court trial. After this acquittal, authorities dropped all charges related to the additional murders of James Fratini of Steubenville and Dr. Diego Delisa in West Virginia.
In 1934, he was picked and held on a charge of murder investigation, before subsequently being released for a lack of evidence.
In January 1937, he was arrested by Federal Agents for being one of the ringleaders of a giant illicit alcohol bootleg syndicate operating within the tristate district.
In July of 1937, he was also charged with federal liquor-tax conspiracy.
The very next year in early 1938, he was arrested on gambling charges with two Calabrian associates: Peter Rarella and Joseph Tegano.
1940 – “permitting gambling” or maintenance of a dice game.
In 1955, he also picked up a disorderly conduct arrest by local police.
…it seems he was never actually jailed on any of the above charges, whether or not the counts were dismissed or he was convicted.
Judging from his police file, he was a serious guy. This next story is a good example of his operational method:
A funny and interesting story dated back to the late-1950’s when a gang of loosely connected, mob-affiliated armed robbers from Cleveland decided to rob Cosmo Quattrone’s restaurant – The Baron. This gang included Dave Tiburzio, Thomas (Laughing Tommy) Rudelick, Vincent Innocenzi, and Dominick Mafrici.
Having never checked in with Tripodi for permission to operate in the area, or to get clearance as to who was a sucker and who wasn’t, they forged ahead and robbed the joint…The result was that Mafrici (although son-in-law to Cleveland member Frank DeAugustini) was tracked down and shot to death in Buffalo in 1957.
A few years later, Innocenzi was also found shot several times with his body left near Akron, Ohio, in the summer of 1960…tsk, tsk, bad boys they were!
The Steubenville regime of the LaRocca Family of LCN continued to operate successfully all through the decade of the 1960’s.
By the 1970’s “Jimmy T” was already in his seventies, and easing into a semi-retirement from the rackets. He lived quietly for the rest of his days. Whatever members remained of his crew seem to have done the same.
Always close partners in life, Jimmy and Cosmo would also exit this world together in death…with Tripodi dying in 1987 at the ripe old age of 88-years-old…and his compare Quattrone having passed less than a year earlier in 1986 at age 85.
Today, as with many of the smaller mafia factions that once operated throughout the United States, the Steubenville Regime is no more. They are forever consigned to American history, having gone the way of Jesse James and Wild Bill Hickok…
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