By The Other Guy | May 1, 2020
Joseph (Little Joe Ragno) Regino – aka “Joseph Regina”, “Joe Ragno”, Joseph Forbes”, “Joseph Riggino” – was born on October 18, 1907, in Reggio Calabria, Italy. One of six children, the family immigrated to the U.S. in 1910 aboard the ship S.S. Madonna which docked in New York harbor. He was naturalized through his father’s derivation citizenship.
His family first settled in Philadelphia. By 1942, he had relocated out to Johnstown. He resided for decades in a home at 500 Ash Street, Johnston. By the late 1950s, they had also bought a winter home down in the Belaire section of Pompano Beach, Florida, at 1961 S.E. 15th Court. In 1961, it’s estimated value was $23,000.
In their later years, Joe and his wife Millie chose to spend the majority of the year down in the Sunshine State.
Side Note: Boss Sebastiano (John) LaRocca resided only two doors down from his “compare” Regino in their Belaire community. In fact, it was documented that Regino had actually purchased the home for LaRocca and oversaw its construction.
He also enjoyed visiting Hot Springs,Arkansas, on occasion, where he would sometimes meet up with other racket figures for a little R&R.
FBI # 687058, Phila PD # 111246, Johnstown PD # 111, Altoona PD # 899, Pittbgh PD # 33286
Joe stood a stocky 5-feet 7-inches tall and weighed 160 pounds. He had a fair complexion, dark brown eyes, and hair that had some grey by his mid-50s. His face was smooth and round with small features, and he was a neat conservative dresser.
He was educated to the eighth grade, at which time he dropped out. Regino served a year in the U.S. Army between 1943-1944, and got married at age 25 in 1932 to the former Mildred (Millie) Shorto. They had no children.
I think it’s important to note that Regino was generally known as having a low-key, friendly but quiet persona. But those who knew him well, related that if aggravated, Joe could quickly turn arrogant, forceful, and domineering. Informants believed that he could easily order violence.
Authorities related that Regino had been a high-ranked racket figure for over 50 years. He controlled the City of Johnstown in Pennsylvania for the Pittsburgh-based La Rocca Family of LCN for decades.
His official position in the mob hierarchy was that of a “capo di decina”. But in Johnstown, he was the overall undisputed boss in control of all racket operations with a heavy emphasis on gambling.
These included a numbers network, horses and sports events, selling Treasury Balance tickets, card games, and one-armed bandits.
Side Note: Regime soldier Samuel (Sammy Fashion) Fashionatta (TN Faccioni), was considered Regino’s “right-arm” for years. Fashion was actually a “recruit” who was later sponsored by Regino for formal induction to Cosa Nostra after proving his value to Regino and the Family over a number of years.
Regina was very business-oriented, with interests over the years in a variety of enterprises that included:
Around 1939, he partnered with his friend John Strank in The City Cigar Store at 149 Main Street in Johnstown. The business operated successfully for a number of years. Regino later sold his interest in it.
In 1949, he bought the Capitol Bowling Alleys at Franklin and Vine Streets in Johnstown.
In addition, by 1961, he partnered with the La Rocca brothers – Sebastian and his younger John J., in the lucrative sale and distribution of cigarettes through vending machines and operating various amusement games; pinballs, bowling games, jukeboxes, etc. They named the company Keystone Cigarette Vending Co. It would become wildly successful.
In 1963, according to Police Captain Fred Lydic and several informants, Regino controlled the following legitimate businesses:
– Shangri-La Club
– Capitol Bowling Alley
– Air Ways Club
– Keystone Cigarette Vending Co
– Haven Bar
– Mission Inn
– Jet Restaurant
– Essex House Restaurant
…it was said that he had invested his vast profits over the years from the rackets into the above establishments.
Regino was also heavily engaged in the distribution of illegal slot machines. These one armed-bandits were placed in many businesses across Johnstown and generated a windfall all-cash profit weekly.
Bars, nightclubs, diners, coffee shops, gas stations, candy stores, private social clubs, were among scores of small businesses that were more than happy to accept these slots for installation. Splitting all profits generated 50/50 with the location owner, Regino was a popular and well-liked guy. Soon, hundreds of varied machines were out, installed around town. The profits were staggering.
Of course “Little Joe Ragno” was required to “kick up” a portion of his profits as a “tribute” into the mafia hierarchy accordingly. But that still left him and his minions with thousands of dollars weekly. If you include his regime’s weekly income derived from bookmaking, their large numbers business, card and dice games, and shylocking… I’d say the “Regino Regime” of the La Rocca Family was doing very nicely for themselves.
Important Side Note: Little Joe was a close personal friend and associate of Andy Gleeson, who was a top ranked attorney, but more importantly head of the Republican Party at Johnstown, PA. I’m sure he served Regino and the mob well over the years.
His criminal record listed seven arrests for Joseph Regino since 1928:
1928 – pointing firearms, hold-up, assault and battery in Johnstown (Fined)
1930 – suspicion of highway robbery by Philadelphia PD (disposition unknown)
1933 – larceny by trick, larceny, and peddling dope. (Nolo-prossed)
1933 – professional gambling and suspicious person, by Altoona PD (fined $25.80)
1936 – gambling, Johnstown PD ($100 fine)
1936 – 3 counts of counterfeiting and passing counterfeit notes, by Phila PD (18 months in Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary)
1937 – accessory to a crime, Pittsburgh PD (disposition not known)
Regino had a long roster of top criminal associates over the years, all documented mafia members:
• Sebastiano (John) La Rocca
• Frank Amato Sr.
• Louis Volpe
• John Scardina
• Samuel (Sammy Fashion) Faccioni
Aside from top figures in the Family, he maintained his own private crew that included:
• Charles Torchia – handled numbers and slot machines. Partnered with another minor mob figure named Mike Cammarata.
• Samuel (Sammy Fashion) Facciani – managed the Shangri-La Club for Regino. Active in bookmaking and numbers. A key rackets figure. One of Regino’s closest aides and subordinates.
• Samuel Pagano and Peter Pagano – they operated the Airways Club – a gambling casino, handled the GI lottery numbers bank, and were all around enforcers for Regino.
• Russell Shorto – Regino brother-in-law who managed the Capitol Bowling Alley, Haven Bar, and was an all-around lieutenant of Regino.
• Louis (Yank) Crocco – operated a betting location that offered horse, sports, and numbers bets at the L & C Pool Hall, which he owned with Elias Hanna.
• Elias (Fats) Hanna – gambling figure and co-owner of the L & C Pool Hall, a bookmaking and numbers betting location controlled by Regino.
• George Bondy – head of the Empire Treasury Balance ticket racket. A major illegal lottery in Johnstown.
• Michael DeGretto – UMWA District Labor Organizer, and close Regino associate.
• Joseph Roberts – Cambria County Commissioner, regarded as a mob racket associate. Close friend
• Arnold Smorto – prominent attorney, considered a racket advisor who associated with Regino.
• Judge Alton Mac Donald – common pleas court judge in Cambria County. Close Regina associate.
• Joseph Fyock – owned a used car lot. Controlled the horse wire-room for a Regino bookmaking ring.
• John (Yano) Mihalick – a bookmaker under the supervision of Regino.
• Anthony Balistrieri – partnered with Regino operating a gambling casino from the Richland American Legion Hall in Johnstown.
In 1955, it was estimated that Regino operated about 80 slot machines in Johnstown alone that generated appx $7,000 a week, and that the profits were split 50/50 with the locations, giving the Regino group a net of $3,500 weekly.
This slot operation was under the complete protection of the local police department. They were paid a monthly “envelope” to turn a blind eye. This coverage extended to bookmaking and their illegal casinos operations as well.
Close connections to the local Democratic Party and its chairmen made this pervasive official corruption within the City of Johnstown, and most all the counties around Pittsburgh possible.They had this political and local law enforcement protection since the 1920s and 30s, forward.
Regino was said to have made sizeable contributions to the campaign fund of District Attorney David Wolfe, who later also became a judge. Wolfe allowed gambling in the City to open up, and any gambling raids and arrests were “setups”. Under this arrangement, he allowed Regino and his operatives alone to run the gambling in the city.
After a profitable 50-plus year underworld career at the pinnacle of power, Joseph (Little Joe Ragno) Regino died at the age of 77 in June of 1985.
Besides serving less than a year in the can on an 18-month jail bid for a counterfeit rap back in 1936, Regino lived a very charmed life as a mafioso.
He made a lot of money in his life, avoided any serious conflict with the law or his fellow mafiosi and lived a comfortable lifestyle…so it seems in his case at least, that “crime really did pay” after all!
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