Antonio Ripepi – Old-Line Black Hander

By The Other Guy | May 5, 2020

Antonio Ripepi in his prime.

Antonio (Tony) Ripepi – was born in Southern Italy in 1902 in the province of Reggio Calabria. By the age of 19, he had immigrated to the U.S., arriving into New York harbor aboard a ship on July 23, 1921. He would settle into the Pittsburgh area where he had many fellow Calabrian “amici” and later wisely became a naturalized American citizen on April 2, 1931.

Side Note: Becoming an American citizen protected him from any possible future deportation proceedings.

Costenze (Stanley) Valenti

Ripepi resided for years in a modest home at 4720 Brownsville Road in the Whitehall section of Pittsburgh. He was married with at least three children. Ripepi also had several nephews he watched over.

He had two sons named Philip and Anthony Ripepi. Both attended the prestigious Valley Forge Military Academy with the son of boss John LaRocca and the sons of other top Pittsburgh mob figures. I believe one of them became a noted practicing physician in Pennsylvania.

Top mobsters John Bazzano Jr., and Stanley and Frank Valenti were all tied to Ripepi through the marriage of his daughters to Bazzano and Costenze (Stanley) Valenti. In fact, law enforcement surveillance documented the elaborate wedding reception party Tony Ripepi threw for his daughter Kay, when she married soldier Stanley Valenti in August of 1956.

FBI # 1611349

Ripepi could best be categorized as an old-line “Mustache Pete” type mafioso. One who adhered closely to the old world tenets of the brotherhood back in Calabria. He was believed to have been a member of the old “Black Hand” extortion rings operating in the early decades of the 1900s before the formation of Cosa Nostra in America.

He held a position as one of the most senior and important “capo di decina” in the Pittsburgh Family for decades. In that context, Ripepi was a notorious mafioso, well-known to all in the underworld, both locally, nationally, and internationally.

The Pittsburgh Family of LCN (Click to enlarge)

Ripepi was reported by both local and federal law enforcement of having engaged in the past in many racketeering enterprises including alcohol bootlegging, narcotics, counterfeiting, numbers, gambling casinos, shylocking, extortion, and horse-race bookmaking.

He was known to control all various illegal gambling operations in Washington County and its surrounding area, concentrating on the Italian numbers-lottery business which was huge with the immigrant Italian population.

On February 15, 1962, police raided the Bova & Sirek’s storefront on South Main Street, arresting Peter Bova and Joseph Sirek for operating a lottery. Although not nabbed by police, a fellow named Jimmy Fisher was thought to be the “controller” and “bagman” backing Bova and Sirek’s operation, which was thought to be the largest gambling ring of its type in all of Washington County.

Side Note: Fisher was the uncle of Rich Mull who was a detective in the Washington Police Department. There was never any overt accusation of corruption or favoritism given to Fisher because of this connection…but it does make one think of the possibility.

John Bazzano Jr.

Backing the entire lottery ring as the “bank” and kingpin was Antonio Ripepi. As the years passed, the numbers racket in Washington County diminished because of changing demographics and ethnicity. Other policy operations allegedly controlled by Ripepi were run by Joe White of Donora, PA., who was owner-operator of a local Ford Motor Company dealership in Donora.

White was said to be head of all numbers writing activity in the Monongahela River Valley area. His partner was Tony Ripepi. They utilized John Lignelli, owner of a floral shop by the same name as their collection drop.

Generally preferring to stay in the background, Ripepi oversaw his minions who ran the crap games and Ziganette card games which were popular at the time. He left these activities under the guidance of his son-in-law, John Bazzano Jr.

During the early-1960s, intense police pressure vastly reduced the play. Wiseguys “wisely” backed up hoping to avoid raids and arrest. The only games offered by Ripepi in that era was a “floating” dice game which constantly moved locales for protection.
Among known gambling locations controlled by Ripepi were VFW Halls, the Sons of Italy Club, and the Ankara Club among others.

Formally “inducted” mob figures in Pittsburgh considered under the supervision of Tony Ripepi were:

The notorious Frank Valenti.

• John Bazzano Jr. – considered his right-hand man.

• Costenze (Stanley) Valenti

• Frank Valenti

• Vito Adragna

• Georgio (George) Adragna

• Dominick Anzalone

Another well-known Calabrian hoodlum who was originally allied with the Ripepi crew was Guiseppe (Joe Gigs) Gigliotti, a numbers racketeer who relocated by the 1940s out to Baltimore, Maryland, where he joined another faction of Calabrian mafiosi lead by Vito and Patsy Corbi. This faction was later absorbed into what became the Mangano/Anastasia Family of New York City.

Ex-Pittsburgh soldier Joseph Gigliotti

Both Gigliotti and the Corbi brothers would always maintain the closest of relations with both Ripepi and the Pittsburgh mob through the years.

In his later years Ripepi, already 63-years-old at the time, was actually pulled into a well-publicized 1966 criminal investigation in Baltimore involving Gambino capo Frank Corbi. In a “round-robin” mess of an affair, Ripepi was charged with “assault with intent to commit murder” for his shooting one Angelo Tromberi over a gambling debt, who in turn, was charged with the shooting of Corbi. For his part, Ripepi denied having even been in Baltimore at the time of the shootings.

Side Note: Please check out our extensive expose’ on “The Corbi Regime of Baltimore, Maryland” for additional interesting reading.

Among the many additional associates connected to this crew were his nephew Dominick Ripepi, and several named as numbers and vending racketeers:

• Albert Pellish – FBI # 23484-31

• Albert Pauline – FBI # 275650

• Gilbert (Gabe) Joseph

• Frederick (Freddy) Kohl

It was said that they ran the Brownsville Coin-Machine Company that had 48 pinball games at locations in Brownsville alone, and another estimated 300-400 distributed throughout all of Fayette County collectively, grossing between $7,500-$10,000 weekly from pinball machines alone. They were considered subordinates of soldiers Vito Adragna and Dom Anzalone.

A police raid conducted in 1963 on several locations controlled by Adragna confiscated over 38 various pinball and gaming machines valued at over $12,000.

By the mid-1960s, Tony Ripepi was considered “semi-retired” from the mob. He eventually fully retired very gracefully, being permitted by the hierarchy to just fade off from active duty so to speak.

Jukebox racketeer Tony Ripepi in the news.

As he aged Ripepi had heavily invested in a swath of legal enterprises (generally a Pittsburgh mob mindset), enabling him to easily remove himself from active racket operations and the daily grind of mob life.

Considered a very wealthy man, Ripepi once admitted that his legitimate business investments alone brought in over $1,000,000 in gross revenues annually. And this was back in the early 1960s when a million dollars was truly a million dollars.

Side Note: Among some of the businesses listed below and others that were not, Ripepi was sometimes partnered with other Pittsburgh mafiosi.

His legitimate and semi-legitimate business ventures included a large vending machine company, Keystone Music Co., that distributed jukeboxes, pinball games, cigarette machines, and a bit more surreptitiously – illegal slot machines or “one-armed bandits” as they were called on the streets.

He also held ownership interest in the breeding of multiple racehorses. Over the years, Ripepi also invested money buying up area farm-lands and open tracts of property.

The FBI also tracked Ripepi making trips to Argentina in 1949, and another trip to Ireland in November of 1957. He was also known to maintain close contacts with mafiosi and camorrista back in Italy. Federal law enforcement suspected that some of these connections and contacts were used to further international narcotics trafficking activity.

Ripepi’s known associates included some of the most important men in the American underworld:

• Stefano Monastero

• Giovanni (John) Bazzano Sr.

• Giovanni (Prince Johnny) Volpe

• Salvatore (Charlie Lucky) Lucania

• Vito (Don Vitone) Genovese

• Francesco (Don Cheech) Scalise

• Umberto (Albert) Anastasia

• Sebastiano (John) LaRocca

• Francesco (Frank) Amato

• Stefano Magaddino

• Luigi (Lou Mora) Morici

• Francesco (Frank) Corbi

Vincenzo (Jimmy) Tripodi

• Francesco (Frank the Hat) Lanza

• Ignazio (Jack Dragna) Rizzotti

• Samuel Mannarino

Gabriel (Kelly) Mannarino

…and a laundry list more, way too numerous to recite here.

Suffice it to say that Tony Ripepi was a very well-respected mafioso, and few doors were closed to him.

An aging Antonio Ripepi.

In his twilight years, Ripepi, with the exception of his sons-in-law, largely stayed away from the rackets and other racket guys. He enjoyed his life, his money, and his immediate family and grandchildren.

Antonio (Tony) Ripepi passed away at the ripe old age of 94 years old in 1996.

Ripepi was one of the last survivors of the old-line Camorrista and Black Hand members to join the modern day, blended Cosa Nostra. He enjoyed a profitable and active underworld career that lasted for over 60 years. And although now consigned to Pennsylvania’s rich underworld history, those in the know who are still around, will remember the Ripepi surname very well.

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