By The Other Guy | May 13, 2020
Youngstown in Ohio holds a special place in gangland. It always has!
The Land of Lincoln had it’s Windy City of Chicago, and The Empire State certainly had it’s Big Apple of New York City…but although those two large cities housed most of the big name gangsters and racketeers that splashed across front-page headlines all across this nation, little ole’ Youngstown had played the gangster game as well as anybody, and arguably more deadly than many.
The city of Youngstown is located on the Mahoning River just 65 miles southeast of Cleveland, and 61 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Youngstown is also the midway between New York City and the City of Chicago, Illinois via Interstate 80.
It is a midwestern City, located in Mahoning County, within the larger region known as the Rustbelt. Traditionally known as a center of steel production, Youngstown was forced to redefine itself when the United States steel industry fell into deep decline during the decade of the 1970s.
Since it’s 1950 high point, the area has seen its population plummet over 60% from 170,000 residents to its current populous of 65,000…it also has the lowest median income of any city in the U.S for a population of that size.
And although in the last few years it’s made a bit of a comeback with a revitalization project, it’s still a far cry from its vibrant days of yesteryear.
Too small a population to warrant a resident Cosa Nostra Family itself, it nonetheless would become ground zero in a vicious protracted gangland battle for supremacy over its lucrative rackets.
In many ways Youngstown had it worse by not having a resident Mafia Family to call its own. One strong underworld entity that governed its territory with an iron fist for all to respect and fear. Because the result was that several different Mafia Families made a bloody grab for it.
Additionally, there were many independent racketeers and hoodlums who tried staking a claim and planting a flag on its soil. The result was bedlam.
Even decades before it’s decline, the Youngstown underworld was always a mixed bag. It’s geographic proximity to both Pittsburgh and Cleveland made it a prized plum back in the heyday of the mob dating back to Prohibition times. Each of those cities had its own resident Mafia Family and each cast their greedy eyes on the diamond that was Youngstown.
Although it was technically situated in the State of Ohio per se, because of it’s close proximity to both cities, Youngstown became what was known as an “open city” as far as underworld rules, doctrine and lingo goes.
Many years ago a “Cosa Nostra Pax” was agreed upon between Cleveland’s Scalish Family and Pittsburgh’s LaRocca Family to share equally in any racket revenue generated within the city.
Each Family appointed several resident mob figures, associates and members alike, native to the area to represent their respective factions. This was back in the 1940s.
The Scalish/Licavoli Family and the LaRocca/Amato Family were allies of sorts since both were officially recognized entities of the American Mafia’s patchwork of groups layed out across the U.S.Allies they were…but they would also become deadly competitors as they vied for the revenue that was being generated out of Mahoning County.
Boss John Scalish and his successor John (Jack White) Licavoli, and Sebastian (John) LaRoccca as bosses of their respective borgatas were of course at the helm of this conflict, but on the surface at least maintained proper mafia decorum as was expected of “men of honor”.
But if they had really wanted to, either one or both could have stopped the blood shed that would spill with a simple wave of their hand…but they never did.
There was way too much money involved for either to turn their head in another direction and leave the spoils to the other.
But boys will be boys as the old adage goes…and “The Boys” play rough. Despite this underworld agreement, unwritten of course, but sealed with a handshake and a Sicilian kiss on both cheeks in “old world” European-style by their respective borgata “Representante”, the pact never really held.
Agreements that were usually better and more secure than any legal contract that could be drawn up and signed by any lawyer, in any court of law in the land.
These two Cosa Nostra Families, although part of the national patchwork of the 26 Mafia organizations that operate and constitute organized crime throughout the nation, would secretly be at war with each other through the decades.
Not a declared open gang war by a shot fired over the bow, but a tit-for-tat type shadowy gorilla warfare.
A theoretical and at times literal tug-of-war between those two mafia factions raged on and off sporadically for over 40 years.
Both factions propensity for using car bombs as a favored way to eliminate their enemies brought the city a dubious moniker. These bombings became known as “The Youngstown Tuneup”.
Short of declaring open war against one another, they would each vie for bloody control of Youngstown’s lucrative gambling operations and other rackets.
The opposing factions would make surgical strikes against one another through the years. Often times denying and refusing to acknowledge they even bombed or murdered each other’s men.
Bookmaking, numbers, crap games, slot machines, illegal after-hours nightclubs, shylocking, prostitution, narcotics, and a whole lot more…all protected by a deeply ingrained corrupt political machine and city and state government that knowingly and happily worked hand in hand with the underworld.
It was a town ideally built for the mob!
The city’s crime and gang killings (75 car bombings and 11 murders in the previous 10 years) and corruption became so bad, that in 1963 The Saturday Evening Post dubbed the area “Crimetown U.S.A.”, noting “officials hobnob openly with criminals. Arrests of racketeers are rare, convictions even rarer still and tough sentences almost unheard of.”
The newspaper went on to state to its citizenry “The time has now come for action on the part of the whole citizenry. Until each honest man is aroused, the cesspool will remain. And Youngstown will remain a shame to the nation.”
At the center of this conflict with lines in the sand drawn, were several key racketeers and “made” members of the mafia from each borgata.
First among equals in the violence were the Carabbia’s.
“Ronnie the Crab” and his brothers representing Cleveland, and Sandy Naples and his brothers Jimmy, Billy and Joey, who had Pittsburgh’s backing.
Side Note: The mob had such impunity from the law that Ronnie Carabbia had beaten his safe-cracking burglary trial after members of the jury were openly threatened with death if he was found guilty…such was the state of affairs in 1960’s Youngstown.
Some others prominent in the city’s underworld were old-line mafiosi Charles (Cadillac Charlie) Cavallaro, Salvatore (Sam) and Guiseppe (Joe the Wolf) DiCarlo, and Vince DeNiro.
In later decades starting in the 1970s, were the Joey Naples and Lenny Strollo factions operating under Pittsburgh’s flag.
Side Note: In 1991, Joey Naples would join his two dead brothers Sandy and Billy, after being hit gangland style. Most prominent for Cleveland were the Carabbia’s; “Ronnie the Crab” and his brother “Orlie the Crab”.
As I’ve done with other exposes I’ve written about various mafia factions at war, I tried to recreate a chronology of the gangland warfare to provide a better picture of what went on. But I feel it’s still not complete and may never be, because of the very haphazard nature and sheer lunacy of the violence. Shootings, sniper attacks, and a massive series of bombings unlike any other city in America. It got to the point that Youngstown gained another moniker and notoriously came to be called “Bombtown U.S.A.”
Here are examples of what I mean:
March 11, 1960 – Santino (Sandy Naples) DiNapoli (52-years-old) – One of four notorious racketeer brothers active in numbers-lotteries and other Youngstown rackets. Sandy is out paroled for the weekend from jail. As he approached the steps of his girlfriend MaryAnn’s home he was set upon by gunmen who opened fire. Both he and his girl are hit numerous times and shot dead by her front door. It was strongly suspected but never proven that Cleveland faction hoods Cadillac Charlie Cavallaro and a henchman Vince DeNiro we’re responsible for the double homicide.
August 6, 1960 – Cleveland faction associate Vincent (Vince) Innocenzi is shot to death and dumped in a ditch. Several days later his brother Silvio is found hung in his garage. Word was that the Innocenzi brothers had attempted to kill but missed a Pittsburgh mob figure several weeks earlier.
December 15, 1960 – A strong-arm enforcer for Sandy Naples by the name of John (Big John) Schuller is shot dead on Route 82. Schuller had been car-bombed several years earlier but survived that attack. This time he didn’t!
June 10, 1961 – Lebanese born Mike Farrah is shotgunned while playing golf. Farrah was a trusted overseer of the infamous gaming casino the Jungle Inn for the Pittsburgh mob.
July 17, 1961 – Cleveland faction strong-arm enforcer James (Vince) DeNiro (39y) is vaporized in his automobile by a massive dynamite bomb that was placed underneath it. The sheer power of the explosion rocked the entire block shattering bricks and windows a block away. DeNiro was an aide and protege’ of old-line capo Charles Cavallaro.
July 1, 1962 – William (Billy Naples) DiNapoli (35y), the younger brother of Sandy is blown to bits by a bomb while starting his automobile parked in his garage. Billy had assumed his brothers mantle in controlling racket operations at the time of his killing.
November 23, 1962 – Before years end a highly respected 60-year old Cleveland capo in charge of Youngstown, Charles (Cadillac Charlie) Cavallaro and his two young sons are blown to bits after he started the engine of his brand new Cadillac in the driveway of their home in order to drive the children to football practice. Charlie and 11-year old Tommy were massacred.
His other son Charlie Jr., incredibly survived the bomb that had been placed under the car’s chassis, but the deafening blast shattered the boy’s body and he underwent extensive surgery to replace his hip and repair other serious injuries that left him crippled for life.
Side Note: I was a young boy at the time of this incident. I distinctly remember my father and uncles being incensed at this wanton act of reckless violence. Other members ofthe mafia across the country felt the same way. It was an infamnia against innocent families, wives and children that had to be stopped. A “law” was soon implemented throughout the borgatas, “No more bombs” allowed….of course it goes to show how whacky the Youngstown crews were that despite this edict, they would continue with these bombings in total violation of Cosa Nostra rules.
September 3, 1964 – Pittsburgh mob associate Dominick (Nicky) Moio is found shot and bludgeoned to death in the trunk of his own car. A known enforcer, Moio had been a prime suspect in both the Cavallaro and DeNiro killings.
October 11, 1968 – Cleveland faction hood Paul Calautti is shotgunned and killed. It was said this was another killing ordered by Naples crew leader “Little Joey” Naples to consolidate his faction’s power.
December 13, 1980 – After a long hiatus from gangland warfare, Cleveland mob associate and overseer for their Youngstown faction, Charles (Charlie the Crab) Carabbia disappears after going on a “meet”. One of three brothers known for their arrogant, nasty, disrespectful ways toward other wiseguys, he was considered a loose cannon by both Pittsburgh and his own Cleveland superiors who eventually grew tired of him, allowing Pittsburgh permission to kill him.
April 18, 1981 – Pittsburg faction member and enforcer Joseph (Little Joe) DeRose Jr., (son of a mobbed up union official of the same name) disappears and was never heard from again. His car was later found abandoned and set ablaze. A subordinate of capo James (Two-Gun Jimmy) Prato, DeRose was considered unstable and arrogant. It was believed that he was murdered by his own faction for stepping out of line.
August 19, 1991 – The chickens come home to roost…the youngest of the brothers, Joseph (Little Joey Naples) DiNapoli became the “good fellow” in charge of Youngstown for Cleveland after the death of his longtime superior, old-timer Vincenzo (Briar Hill Jimmy) Prato. Naples was doing very well for himself, having finally seceded to the throne…a feat his older brothers never achieved. But jealousy reigns supreme in the mafia.
Upstart faction soldier Lenny Strollo plots his assassination to try and usurp Naples’ power and position. One afternoon while visiting the construction site of a beautiful new mansion that Little Joey was building for himself and his family, a sniper perched in a tree out in the fields shot Naples in the head killing him instantly…40 years of strife for a Naples brother to finally ascend to be the boss of Youngstown, only to get a carbine rifle slug in the forehead.
June 3, 1996 – An overly ambitious Pittsburgh faction associate named Ernest (Ernie B) Biondillo has his car blocked in, front and back, by several “work and crash cars” while driving down a side street on his way to work one morning. Set up by Lenny Strollo who farmed the hit out to a couple of black kids he knew, Biondillo was shot multiple times and killed while trapped in the front seat of his Jeep.
Biondillo had been closely associated with Joey Naples and Jimmy Prato prior to their deaths. Strollo viewed him as unwanted competition in Youngstown.-…and there were other less publicized or never publicized gangland homicides committed through those same decades related to the struggle for supremacy over the Youngstown gambling rackets.
After a major investigation partially triggered by the killings of Naples and Biondillo, the man who rose to become Pittsburgh faction leader, Lenine (Lenny) Strollo, his brother Dante (Danny) Strollo, and several others in his group were all arrested and subsequently indicted for murder, conspiracy, bribery and official corruption for the deep infiltration and subverting of Youngstown’s and Mahoning County’s local government, and other racketeering charges.
Both Strollo’s would eventually turn rat on each other and against the various wide swath of politicians they’d corrupted over the years. It became an even larger corruption investigation that saw the dismissal, arrests, and indictments of a slew of top political figures and local law enforcement.
Paramount to those later indicted on corruption charges was U.S. Congressman James Traficant, a Youngstown native, born and bred there who later rose to a position of prominence. It was alleged that his entire political campaign and career were indeed financed by the joint effort of both the Pittsburgh and Cleveland Families in order to better control any police probes and investigations.
Originally running as a candidate for sheriff in 1980, Traficant had made a deal with the devil by accepting $60,000 cash from the Pittsburgh mob, and shortly thereafter secretly accepting another $100,000 from Cleveland’s mob. He tried playing both ends against the middle…always a bad idea. Especially when those two ends are opposing mafia factions.
By 1985, Traficant had been elected to Congress. A position he would be re-elected to time and again. Eventually, several judges, City attorney’s and other government officials would be drawn into the scandal as well…it was a huge mess and embarrassment. And once again it became a black eye for the city of Youngstown…or should I say “Crimetown USA”.
As quiet and shadowy as the mob in Pittsburgh was for most of its tenure, the opposite was true for its Cosa Nostra neighbor in Cleveland. No other city outside of Youngstown had more bombings than them. In 1977 alone, police recorded 37 bombings incidents in the Cleveland area, prompting one local newspaper to dub the city the “bombing capital of America”.
Both years before and after, bombings took the lives of, or seriously injured multiple hoodlums including:
• Irish mobster Danny Greene, (who was also a longtime paid informant for the FBI). After many murder attempts, he was finally blown to smithereens in a car bombing by the Licavoli faction.
• ILA labor-union enforcer Arthur Snepeger
• Cleveland gambler Joe Allen
• Scalish Family enforcer Eugene (The Animal) Ciasullo
• Jewish policy racket boss Shondor Birns
Other murders included:
• Garbage carting owner Mike Frato – injured in a car bombing and later shot to death to finish the job.
• John Conte, who disappeared and was later found bound, gagged and bludgeoned to death.
• Newly installed Cleveland underboss Leo (Lips) Moceri, who disappeared one day and has never been seen since.
• Frank Pircio, an innocent neighbor of mobster Allie Calabrese who went to move Allie’s car and was mistakenly blown to bits.
• Hell’s Angel’s member Enis Crnic, who accidentally blew himself up while trying to rig a bomb to the car of mob associate John Delzoppo. Crnic was suspected of being hired by Greene to kill Delzoppo.
• And one of the main antagonists in the deadly conflict; John Nardi. A rebel mobster and Teamsters official who had been at odds with his former Cleveland mob associates. Nardi was vaporized in a massive bombing of his automobile as he left his union headquarters one afternoon.
End Note: Watch for a future post up about the history of the Cleveland Mafia.
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