By The Other Guy | June 13, 2020
Situated in Sangamon County in Central Illinois, the city of Springfield is a vibrant little metropolis with a current population of just over 114,000 residents, which makes it the sixth-largest city in the entire state.
When the overall, greater Springfield metropolitan area is included, it boasts a population of over 211,000 people who call the area home. Spanning just over 66 square miles in size, Springfield also happens to be the state’s Capitol and is the largest city in Sangamon County itself.
Behind the cities of Chicago and Rockford, Springfield is listed as the most populated metropolitan area in the entire midwestern State of Illinois. It is situated smack dab right in the central part of Illinois and is only 80 miles northeast of St. Louis, Missouri.
It is a proud little metropolis, whose most famous resident Abe Lincoln, called the area his home for over two decades, residing in Springfield between the years 1837 and 1861.
Their motto, “The Home of President Abraham Lincoln” is worn proudly and repeated often by its residents. And yet the small city of Springfield, Illinois has always been but a bleep on the Mafia map of the United States since its very inception.
I think one reason why they were never a major force in the area may be because the city of Springfield, although large enough an area to support a major borgata, had a total overall Italian population of but 3.5% in the entire city.
They didn’t have a significant enough footprint or pool by which to catapult themselves to prominence and dominance. Not to mention the fact that their larger neighbor in Chicago, stole all the hoopla and front-page headlines through the years because of its murderous reputation and antics, not to mention their most famous resident, Scarface Al Capone.
Despite that fact, elements of what would later become known as the “Springfield Family” of LCN had been in operation since the earliest days of Prohibition, which started in 1920.
They operated plenty of illegal alcohol stills that churned out hundreds and hundreds of 5-gallon tins of alky, homemade vats of Guinea-red wine and beer, the occasional additional “legitimate”truck or boatload of liquor smuggled across the Canadian border into its jurisdiction, and their fair share, proportionately speaking, of murderous gangsters and racketeers.
The tiny little city of Springfield never really garnered much attention locally, and even less nationally, in regards to a crime wave, or noted underworld Mafia activity per se.
It seems to be the way they liked it too!…How does that old adage go? “Make Money, Not Headlines!”…it could have been this crew’s mantra.
It was really only after the debacle of the infamous and ill-fated Apalachin Mafia Convention, which was raided by New York State Troopers on November 14, in 1957, that “little ole” Springfield, and its resident “Capo”, Francesco (Frank) Zito, was really put on the map and came to national attention, and under the microscope and blaring lights of the FBI, IRS, and other various law enforcement agencies.
All available data seems to point to Zito being a very low-keyed type guy.
And although he was indeed the longtime, recognized, sitting Family boss, he pretty much stayed off law enforcement’s radar for almost 40 years before he was exposed for what he truly was.
Francesco (Frank) Zito – FBI # 177995 – had a very limited police record with only 3 known arrests for murder investigation, bootlegging, and later, an obstruction of justice charge related to the Apalachin affair that was dismissed.
He lived for decades in a modest ranch-style home located at 1801 Illini Road in Springfield with his wife Antonina (nee Sgro), better known as Lena. I don’t believe the Zitos ever had children of their own.
Side Note: He had several brothers also in the rackets. One of whom, Giuseppe (Diamond Joe) Zito, was a highly-respected mafioso who although very close to Frank, was actually aligned with a separate Mafia Family based in the city of Rockford. “Diamond Joe” served as the decades-long “consigliere” of that Family, which was another small, but lively and profitable borgata under the auspices of longtime boss Joseph (Joe Z) Zammuto.
Another brother, Antonio (Tony), was, in fact, a top capodecina of the Springfield Family, who worked hand-in-glove, in tandem with his brother Frank for decades.
The Zito’s were actually connected through marriage to Jasper Calo, another top Illinois mafioso who was married to their sister. Calo and Joe Zito were both top affiliates of the Rockford crew.
There were actually several other mafioso affiliated with their borgata who carried the Zito surname as well: Filippo (Phil) and Salvatore (Sam). They could have also been brothers, or possibly related as cousins to Frank, Tony, and Joe.
Frank Zito was born on February 24, 1893, in San Giuseppe Iato, Sicily. He was said to have been the first of the siblings to immigrate to America in 1910, at the age of 17 when he arrived, paving the way for his loyal brothers to follow.
He would later make sure to become a naturalized U.S. citizen on September 11, 1945.
Side Note: It goes to show the closeness and solidarity between Zito and his closest men that on the same day Zito was naturalized on September 11, 1945, so was Vito Impastato, who was one of Frank’s top Capodecina and confidantes.
Frank stood about 5 foot-6 inches tall and was built solid at 185 pounds. He had dark brown eyes and hair that turned grey and receded early to give him a bald pate. He also wore glasses as he aged that gave him an unassuming, studious appearance.
Zito initially got a job as a coal miner down in Alabama, and later Illinois. And after working several other low paying, odd jobs, it is documented that he and his brothers settled into Springfield before 1920, where they soon gravitated into the local underworld.
They originally became active in the rackets in the early 1920s as bootleggers during the alcohol-forbidden Prohibition days, as many other racketeers did. It was later documented in sworn testimony before the Senate Investigation Committee by Senator Bobby Kennedy that between 1919 and 1931, Frank Zito opened at least 14 alcohol stills in the Springfield area.
Zito became one of the top “alky” racketeers who kept the populous of the Central Illinois area of the state “wet” as it were. Having jumped into alcohol bootlegging by at least the early 1920s, Frank Zito caught almost a full decade in which to make his first major bankroll, and firmly establish his underworld credentials.
And establish them he did! Because by the mid-1930s the Zito brothers, Frank, Tony and Joe, as well as several other close, young hoodlum associates, started to take overall control of the Springfield underworld.
In 1959, Senate rackets investigators established that back by 1937, the Zito mob was in control of practically every racket in the general Springfield area.
With his growing position and wealth, Frank opened a wholesale food products distributor he named the Capitol Products Company, which supplied Italian-style foods imported from Italy to the public.
Side Note: During his bootlegging days, Frank Zito was said to have been fined $10,000, and served a two-year jail term starting in March of 1933, at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary for conspiracy to violate the federal alcohol-tax laws toward the end of Prohibition.
It was also said that just before his entry to prison, he was allowed by the government to revisit his birthplace and family back home in Sicily again in early 1932. Frank hadn’t been back to the place of his birth in over 22 years.
It was also noted that as of 1960, almost thirty years later, Zito still owed a $9,000 balance on the $10,000 fine that he was originally assessed back in 1932. He had transferred all his property and assets to his wife’s name, making it virtually impossible for the government to collect their money.
With the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1931, he and his small gang of mafiosi found themselves in control of a well-established network of men, originally set up to smuggle and distribute illicit liquor.
But they were now also perfectly poised to seamlessly transition into the various gambling rackets that were quickly gaining traction across all of America.
Among his closest associates in those days included fellow hoodlums like Frank Campo, Ernest (Buster) Dinora, Dominick (Nicky) Campo, Vito Salvo, Frank Dyer, Giacomo (Jackie) and Vito Impastato, George Fassero, Jasper Calo, and Zito’s own brothers.
Many of their Mafia brethren from coast to coast were making a concerted effort to wrest control of all organized gambling operations throughout the entire country, from various independent gamblers and racketeers.
They also focused on wresting control and dominating the jukebox, and vending machine business to make it their own. It would take but a few short years.
Side Note: But it wasn’t always “peaches and cream”. In 1941, Zito was reportedly shot by another hoodlum named Mauro (John) Montana. He obviously survived to go on to greater things. Montana was later deported back to Italy by authorities for his efforts.
By the 1940s, Cosa Nostra, or as the general public knew them by, “the dreaded Mafia”, had a virtual ironclad control over the nation’s automatic-coin machine industry.
Bobby Kennedy’s investigators brought evidence before his Senate Committee (convened after Apalachin to probe the mob), that by at least 1940 forward, Frank Zito and his membership had, and I quote Senator Kennedy here:
“And by 1940, through at least 1948, you were controlling the punch boards, the slot machines, the dice and the poker games in the Springfield area, isn’t that right Mr. Zito?”
Side Note: Both the illegal gambling rackets in general, and the jukebox-vending machine business in particular, are perfect examples of “The Commission” at work…and why the federal government was so afraid of the power wielded by the Mafia. With its “Board of Directors” so to speak, the Commission would meet periodically and vote on various proposals brought before it, in order to further the goals and overall health of the Italian brotherhood nationwide.
By focusing on the gaming industry, as well as the coin machine industry, in a few short years they achieved their goal. It shows their tremendous power and influence, that once they put their collective minds to it, and issued a directive to the chiefs of the various 26 Families sprinkled throughout the U.S., pretty much any target for takeover or infiltration was easy prey for Cosa Nostra…and it scared the shit out of the powers that be, back in Washington.
They don’t like that kind of competition! … Lol
It was thought that this particular Cosa Nostra Family didn’t actually come into existence as a formal borgata, until after the repeal of Prohibition in the early 1930s.
Frank Zito is widely recognized as the original “Capo” of this small borgata and that it probably numbered no more than possibly 20 or so inducted members during its 1940s thru 1960s peak.
Their core membership seems to have been almost exclusively from Sicily. Primarily from the towns of San Giuseppe Iato, Agrigento, and Cinisi. With a few token Calabrians thrown in for good measure.
Zito was a typical, old-time styled “Mustache Pete”.
He was said to have run Central and Southern Illinois, an area within what’s known as Sangamon County.
Zito was said to have been the recognized boss or Capo of “The Outfit”, as it’s called in Midwest lingo, from approximately the early 1930’s until at least 1948.
Side Note: It is debatable whether or not Zito was still the official boss by 1957, or whether he had actually relinquished the boss seat, and was serving thereafter in the role of their senior advisor or consigliere. He was probably still the “official” boss, but had installed an “acting boss”, or had put his “underboss” up front, so that Zito could remain more in the shadows…that would make more sense to me.
Their entire Family membership was the equivalent in size to that of a large-sized, “single” regime of any given New York City based Mafia Family. And yet they operated many of the same base rackets that larger borgata’s are generally based on.
Because they were operating within a much smaller geographic area, and bailiwick than larger cities are, it worked.
Typical racket staples were mainly a numbers lottery, horse and sports bookmaking, a few floating dice and card games, and some shylocking.
The early prostitution rackets was also something said to have been governed and controlled to some degree by the Zito Family.
One of Zito’s strengths was the fact that he was allegedly able to offer protection to the area’s gamblers and racketeers from local police raids and arrests. He was said to be in tight with the local police department, and even the local daily newspapers.
Zito had the “locals” on his regular payroll or “pad”, and this gave him great influence.
It is said to have allowed him to control and run a regular “shakedown” network aimed at local gamblers, bookies, numbers runners, and operators of other various illegal street rackets.
With Zito’s assurance of no police interference or fear of raids, arrests, and the resultant bad newspaper publicity, it became a steady and reliable source of revenue for him and his Family membership for years.
On the legitimate, or semi-legitimate side of things, Zito and his disciples were known to operate in the jukebox and vending machine field in a big way.
Side Note: In 1948, Zito and the Springfield mob attempted to open up a labor union to represent workers in the jukebox and vending machine workers field, in partnership with the Chicago mob.
Chicago Boss Tony Accardo approved a “charter” from a parent vending-machine union they ran back in the Windy City, authorizing his “compare” Frank Zito and his minions to open their own branch in Springfield. This local was fronted by Zito associate Michael Spagnola.
Frank’s brother Anthony Zito – FBI # 1320911 – who had 7 prior arrests of his own including; bootlegging, carrying firearms, arson, and assault with a deadly weapon, and had served an 8-year prison term, was also intricately involved in these coin-machine rackets with Frank.
In fact, on December 6, 1957, the headless torso of a competing jukebox operator by the name of DeRosa was found in the cornfields out in Sangamon County. It was said that Tony Zito personally “clipped” him after DeRosa had the audacity to try and compete with the Zito brothers vending operation.
Police searched for the body after a neighborhood dog found and brought home to its master the head of DeRosa, prompting authorities to conduct the search.
The Chicago mob, and by extension the Springfield Family, also held an exclusive contract to distribute Wurlitzer brand jukeboxes…a potentially lucrative endeavor indeed!
Iconic Chicago mobster and union racketeer Joey Glimco, and his close associate Frank (Jukebox Smitty) Smith, were pivotal in forming this arrangement through their control of Chicago Local # 134.
Side Note: The Springfield Family always kept very close relations to the larger Chicago Family, which was also believed to represent them before the “Commission”. Additionally, Frank Zito was also close to fellow bosses Frank Balistrieri of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Joseph Zammuto of Rockford, Illinois. He was also connected to a lesser degree with Anthony Giardano of St. Louis, Missouri.
Zito and his soldiers also owned and operated several bars and grills, and a few restaurants around town.
Side Note: Many a mob guy went into the legal, retail liquor trade once Prohibition was repealed. It made sense in that most of them were very familiar with booze to begin with, having ran it illegally for over a decade. Many already held silent interests in speakeasies and illegal breweries that were automatically converted over to legal, licensed liquor establishments. It was an easy and natural transition into a now totally legitimate business.
Frank himself was listed as the owner of record, and the operator of the Modern Distributing Co., of 225 North 5th Street, in Springfield.
Modern Distributors was one of the major suppliers of cigarette machines, jukeboxes, and various pinball games in the city.
Other businesses he was connected to through the years included ownership, or a suspected hidden interest in a cigar store, Schoenle’s Tavern, Cloverdale Poolroom, and the Security Cab Co., all located in Springfield.
Frank did alright for himself over the years. Well enough in fact, that he was able to purchase several major income producing properties, which included The Hotel Satler, located at 310 South 5th St., and several other prime pieces of real estate located at 223 and 225 North 5th Street. The later address 225, housing his coin-machine company.
As he aged, these varied investment properties and his vending machine firm provided Zito with a steady and significant enough income, that he was able to retreat gracefully from all racket operations, and the subsequent law enforcement exposure that typically came with it by the late 1940s or early 1950s.
By that time it’s believed that Zito was looked upon as a senior, seasoned “consigliere” or sorts. That he had relinquished the “Capo” seat to trusted aides, and retreated although after his attendance at Apalachin. That he was no longer the boss per se.
As luck would have it, with his alleged attendance at the ill-fated underworld bbq in 1957 at Upstate New York, Zito ended up facing more public exposure and scrutiny that he had previously experienced in his entire lifetime. And it unnerved him!
The FBI had discovered that Zito had visited, and was a registered guest at the Airport Motel in Newark, New Jersey, on November 12th, 13th, and 14th.
This motel was a well-known mob meeting spot, and was owned by veteran Bonanno capo Anthony Riela, who also happened to be an old confederate of Zito’s.
Zito was said to have traveled East with Vincenzo (Black Jim) Colletti, who was another old-time Sicilian born, midwestern based mafioso. Colletti was the boss of his own small Cosa Nostra Family in the unlikely mafia town of Pueblo, Colorado.
They were thought to have traveled to New Jersey as a quick stopover,to take a breather, and to better coordinate with their fellow bosses for the long ride up to Binghamton boss Giuseppe Barbara’s sprawling estate at Apalachin, where the huge mob convention was to take place on the afternoon of the 14th.
It’s reported that Zito and Colletti were thought to have driven up to Apalachin with Tony Riela in his car.
During the subsequent police raid, many mafiosi scurried into the woods in an often futile attempt to escape their captors.
Both Zito and Colletti, dressed to the “nines” in expensive, imported Italian-cut suits, and polished, Italian alligator shoes, were caught walking along Little Meadows Road, a quiet country road adjacent to Barbara’s estate.
In his senior years, which was certainly accelerated by all the hoopla of the Apalachin affair, Frank Zito was said to have chosen to fully retire from the mob. He laid back and enjoyed his life, loving family brood, and all the substantial assets he’d accumulated during his lifetime…which on review seems to have been a very successful, and easy, breezy, type Mafia career.
He would later quietly pass away at the comfortable age of 81 years old, on August 22, 1974.
The Mafia Family he headed is also no longer in existence. It slowly faded out with the death of its original, key members…Today, the Zito Family is just a memory, like so much of the Cosa Nostra of yesteryear.
The chart that follows below is a list of their known and suspected members, as well as several top associates of the Springfield Family.
The key towns in Sicily where the original members of this borgata immigrated from were as follows: San Giuseppe Jato, Terrasini, Cinisi,Agrigento, Castelvetrano, and Sancipirello.
The Francesco Zito Family
Here is the known and suspected membership for the fifty year span from approximately 1930 through the 1980s era. Not all of those named operated at the same period.
Frank Zito – 1930-1948
Ernest (Buster) Dinora- 1949-1980s
Dominick (Nicky) Campo
Antonio (Tony) Zito
Salvatore (Sam) Scro
Pasquale (Patsy) Aiello
Baptiste (Bobby) Bommarito
Salvatore (Sam) Campo
Giovanni (John) Cavallaro
Leonardo (Leo) Giaccio
Enrico (Henry) Dinora
Leonardo (Leo) Ciaccio
Giacomo (Jackie) Impastato
Matteo (Matt Manzo) Manzella
Giuseppe (Peppino) Madonia
Filippo (Phil) Zito
Salvatore (Sam) Zito
Michele (Mike) Midiri
Filippo (Phil) Leone
Giuseppe (Joe) Dinora
Although they were generally a very low key Family, several known affiliates and members were killed during their early years. They included:
Vincenzo Troia – 1935
Frank Agrusa – 1944
Francesco Longo – 1935
Charles Supino – 1937
Side Note: Nicolo (Nick) Ciaccio was the Attorney and Chief Administrative Assistant to Paul Powell, The Secretary of State. He was Employed in the Secretary of States office at Springfield, IL, and was also a top investigator for the State Insurance Commission…He was a close, first cousin of Tony Zito’s wife.
This article was originally posted “here“