By The Other Guy | July 17, 2020
The City of Rockford, in far northern Illinois, has been a hotbed of underworld activity since the 1920s.
Located by the northern border of the state in Winnebago County, it is the fifth-largest city in the entire state outside of Chicago, and is less that 100 miles from the “Windy City” itself.
Nicknamed “The Forest City”, or “The Screw Capital of the World”, today, Rockford boasts a population just shy of 145,000 residents. With it’s outlying greater metropolitan area, the total populous reaches almost 350,000.
It has been a vibrant city for over one hundred years. And with that bustling economy and population, typically always comes some form of organized crime as well.
They were no different. And yet for all its commerce and activity, Rockford, by and large, has been a hidden “gem” for the Italian Cosa Nostra for over 100 years.
A quiet little city hidden away on the map, where a small band of mafiosi have quietly plied their “stock in trade” of underworld rackets and underworld justice, meted out as dictated by their “Capo”, when need be.
Since the earliest days of Prohibition, the city has been host to a tiny, but highly well-organized and successful Mafia borgata that at its peak, numbered no more than possible 20 to 30 inducted “made” members.
Unlike many of the other smaller Mafia Families throughout the country, Rockford, despite it size, has been able to do for far longer what many of it’s Cosa Nostra confederates in other cities, large and small, could not…and that was survive!
Of the 26 original Cosa Nostra networks documented by the FBI in the United States, that had been organized and formed back in 1931, many became nearly extinct by the late 1970s to mid 1980s era.
In fact, it can be argued that less than half still had any semblance of a formal structure, or operated on even a semi-steady basis by that point in time.
Fast forward to today, and a good educated estimate would be that approximately only 10 to 12 or so Mafia Families are still in operation. Most of those are having difficulty breathing, with some gasping, and in need of a respirator!
Because of the sheer size of their Families, and the fact that New York is the center of the universe for the Italians in America, the notorious Five Families of New York City have had the luxury of a “deep bench” of mafia recruits to pick from, in order to replenish their ranks.
The New Jersey and Philadelphia borgatas, and to a lesser extent theNew England and Buffalo/Canada crews, have also had the benefit of a large Italian populous to help keep them afloat as well.
But each has arguably been greatly weakened through unrelenting prosecutions, death, and attrition through recent decades.
They are certainly shadows of what they were in their heyday, but each is still steadily functioning, chugging along on that underworld railroad of mafia mayhem.
But the effects of the various factors I mentioned above, have been much more pronounced on the Midwest Cosa Nostra Families.
Always a highly efficient, self-contained Family, the Detroit “Partnership” is still technically functioning, but they’re in big trouble. And the situation is even more dismal with Chicago’s “Outfit.”
As far as the Chicago Family goes? They are believed to have a single crew or two still technically running, but nobody can tell you for how long.
They’re less than a wisp of what they once were…during the heady days of the infamous Scarface Al Capone, Frank Nitti, Sam Giancana, Paul Ricca, and Tony Accardo. Chicago is almost unrecognizable as a formally structured “borgata.”
The same holds true for Milwaukee. What was once a small, but vibrant Family, headed for decades by boss Frank Balistrieri, has almost completely evaporated.
If there are even a few veteran made guys left in that city, overseeing a few associates, it’s a lot!
As for the rest?… Pittston-Scranton, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Cleveland, Tampa, Dallas, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver. They are no more…they might as well be fossils.
But through the decades, the Zammuto Family of LCN has been a quiet and tightly run, almost completely self-contained, network of closely woven mafiosi.
They pretty much stayed to themselves, operating their local area rackets without a lot of fanfare, or interference from outsiders, be they law enforcement, or other borgatas. It seems to have served them well.
Side Note: The Rockford Family was said to keep close relations with The Joseph Civello Family of Dallas, Texas. It was said that several key members of the Dallas crew were blood-related to Rockford. These included Rosario (Ross) Musso, a top member under Civello, who also happened to be his brother-in-law.
Rockford also always tried to maintain a cordial relationship with the Chicago Family (which is believed to represent Rockford before the Commission), but kept it somewhat at arms-length after Chicago made several moves to try and subvert the Rockford leadership to Chicago.
Word was that Chicago attempted to install a “puppet” leader to head the Rockford Family, which of course would have put the “Outfit” in the driver’s seat… Zammuto edged them out all the way.
This shows that a boss is a boss regardless, as long as you have the balls and brains to be one in the first place.
Joseph (Joe Z) Zammuto proved his mettle on that one!
The one exception to this method of operation, was a small influx of Sicilian-born recruits, that they “sponsored” for immigration into the United States, to Rockford, starting in the 1960s and 1970s era, in order to bolster up their shrinking ranks…It was a very smart move!
It was estimated by various federal officials, including the FBI and DEA, that underboss/acting boss Frank Buscemi had “sponsored” approximately 20 or so younger and middle-aged Sicilian nationals from the borgata’s homeland of Aragona, and the surrounding towns and villages.
Over the next decade or so, the Family ranks swelled back up to their 1950s peak. It would be the much needed life blood, to catapult the Rockford Family well into the 2000s.
Digressing back to their beginnings.They started out with the advent of the Volstead Act in 1920.
A small group of these fledgling racketeers managed to edge out all rivals until they alone, dominated and controlled the illicit alcohol trade.
Early bootlegging figures, and later gaming racketeers in Rockford included names such as the Lazzio brothers, Charley (Chuck) Dursch, Alf Mallot, Frank Maragi, Blackie Calderotta, Tony Musso, Jasper Calo, Thomas Pendergast, Francis Croon, Rubin (Ruby) Croon, William (Billy) Morris, and others.
Prohibition was very good to them. By the time it ended in 1931, the man who was to become the first boss of the Family, Tony Musso, and many of his friends were wealthy beyond their wildest dreams…and they were just getting started!
With the help of newly minted mafiosi Jasper Calo, Diamond Joe Zito, Joe Zammuto, and several others, they formed the first (and only) formally recognized Mafia Family that would ever operate in their territory. And then they allied with the newly structured Cosa Nostra.
This was a conglomeration of all the mafia borgatas across this nation, who joined hands in 1931, and were now “one” unit in solidarity!
The Family controlled all the City’s policy “wheels” by the late 1930s. This was a very lucrative, major form of lottery, and was very popular throughout the area.
They also made a concerted effort to take over all independent bookies in Rockford. Horses, sports betting. It was now the Mafia’s territory.
Of course, floating dice and card games, punch boards, slot machine rackets, and varied lottery tickets soon fell under the heavy hand of the Musso Familia of Cosa Nostra as well.
This group also controlled a “wire service” that Chuck Dursch operated which provided timely, vital racetrack results information. They operated the racket out of Spotty’s Tavern, on South Main Street, which was owned by Sam Lazzio snd Frank Maragi.
This borgata also operated out of a private social club they named The Aragona Club, aka “Saint Mary of Mercede of Aragona, Sicily, Society”.
Located at 320 Kent Street, Rockford, it served as the de facto headquarters for the group for decades. With many of its members hailing from the small village of Aragona in Sicily, it was the perfect name.
What follows below are thumbnail sketches for most of their original members, as well as their more current members, right on up to men believed to still be operating today.
• Antonio (Tony) Musso – He was the original boss of the Rockford Family. A top bootlegger in his day, Musso was thought to have helped originally organize this Family into a formal borgata in the early 1930s.
He remained boss for over twenty years, until his death in 1958.
• Giuseppe (Joe Z) Zammuto – Born in Aragona, Sicily in 1897, he became boss after Musso, and was said to have ruled for many decades in a low key, efficient manner. His arrest dates to the 1920s for bootlegging (twice), concealed weapon, gambling conspiracy.
A very well respected boss. Zammuto held large real estate and income property interests around Rockford. Among the addresses owned by Zammuto were:
– 313 E. State Street, housing the Capri Pizzeria.
– A property and building housing Giuseppe’s Italian Restaurant
– A large tract of land that housed the North Towne Mini Golf at 950 Halsted Road.
– And another property at 111 Kilburn Avenue.
At one time he also owned or held an interest in Reliable Distributing Company (a wholesale liquor firm), Dr. Pepper Soda Bottling & Distributors, and the Blackhawk Bottling Company.
He also held a partnership in a major vending machine firm named State Line Vending Corp., and several area taverns.
He was also partnered with Charlie Lazzio and Charlie Vince in ownership of the North Towne Lounge. Zammuto lived the good life until 1990…dying at the very respectable age of 93 years old.
Zammuto was said to have many “hooks” into the local Rockford Police Department, not the least of which was Deputy Sheriff Joseph Mandell, who was a cousin of Zammuto’s wife.
His son Joseph Zammuto, Jr., became the Commissioner of the Rockford City Street Department (the equivalent of the sanitation department). It was a patronage plum that I think shows the level of deep penetration the Zammuto Family was able to achieve in the territory. Others connected with the Family gained key employment positions as well.
It helped them infiltrate and later take control of the city’s garbage hauling contracts.
• Gaspare (Jasper Gallo) Calo – Born 1891 in Sicily. He became Chicago PD # 73-751. Calo immigrated from Casteldaccia in Sicily, to America in 1923, settling in Illinois.
He later married the sister of Joe, Tony and Frank Zito. Calo served as the longtime underboss of the Rockford Family to both Tony Musso, and his successor Joe Zammuto.
After an unsuccessful bid for the boss seat in 1958, Calo later chose to retire back to Palermo, Sicily by 1962. He was partners with Joe Zito in several cheese businesses including Pinehurst Dairy Co., which he sold before relocating back to Europe.
• Guiseppe (Diamond Joe) Zito – He was born in 1906 at San Giuseppe Iato, Sicily. He immigrated to the United States with his brothers and later moved to the City of Rockford, Illinois. He would reside for many years at 2612 Rural Street.
His two brothers were both associated with the Springfield, IL, Family, and were in that borgata’s hierarchy; Frank Zito, who served as its longtime boss, and Tony Zito, who was a top capo and righthand man to Frank.
Diamond Joe was recognized as the longtime “consigliere” of the Rockford Family, serving in tandem with boss Joseph Zammuto.
Zito was said to have a hidden interest and control over several area bars and taverns. These included the Midway Lounge, Grant Park Tavern, Cyprus, The Playroom, and the Club Roma. He also held ownership in extensive properties, and several cheese and dairy firms.
• Frank J. (Frankie Bush) Buscemi – Born 1912 in Aragona, Sicily, he was always a top figure of this Family. He was the owner-operator of State Line Vending, of 326 W. Jefferson Street, which was considered the dominant jukebox-vending company in the area.
Buscemi was eventually elevated by Joe Zammuto to serve as his trusted underboss and second in command, until allegedly later moving up to become the official boss.
Buscemi also owned Rondinella Foods, Inc., of 1128 S. Winnebago Road, which was a large distributor of Italian-styled food products for pizzerias and Italian restaurants. He also owned the property and building which housed the company.
He also owned the building and business at Sam’s Pizza at 1029 East Harlem Road, and the Plaza Suite Club in partnership with his son Frank Jr.
• Vincenzo (Charlie Vince) Vinci – One of the most active and higher profile members of this group. Born in 1907, he was a top “caporegime” for decades who later rose to the acting boss position.
He listed his employment for years as the Sta-Von Tavern, Rockford. He operated high-stakes dice games at the South Side Sportmen’s Club. Vinci died in 1994.
• Filippo (Phil) Priola – He was a soldier of this Family. He had a brother Tony Priola who was affiliated with the Chicago Family.
• Sebastian (Knobby) Gulotta – Born in 1930, he was an active soldier, later elevated to a capo status by the early 1980s. He would later be elevated to the boss position after Zammuto’s retirement. Knobby Gulotta was thought to own an interest in The Plantation Restaurant.
Joe Zammuto was said to have personally “sponsored” Gulotta into the Family. Knobby remained the boss until he died in 2000.
• Filippo (Phil) Cannella – A longtime soldier. He was active in alcohol bootlegging, gambling, strong-arm. Cannella was later elevated to capo.He passed away in 1971.
• Giorgio (George) Saladino – An old soldier of the Family. His daughter later married capo Phil Cannella. George Saladino was a very active member of the group who often had his various operations backed financially by consigliere Joe Zito.
Some of the additional well known, reputed early soldiers and associates of the Family were identified through the years as including:
• Philip (Phil the Tailor) Emordeno – Born 1911, Chicago PD #92-1714, was one of the notorious members. Originally starting out as a bootlegger, he later went into the gambling rackets.
He was said to have later possibly risen to capo status, but regardless, Emordeno was a influential member of this Family for decades.
• Joseph (Blackie) Caltegerone – Born in 1910. He was an old time bootlegger and mafioso.
• Calogero (Carl) Caltegerone – Born back in 1895, he was Blackie’s brother and another original soldier.
• Joseph (Joe Cap) Capriola – He was related to another veteran soldier named Salvatore (Sam) Capriola.
• Salvatore (Sam) Saieva – A suspected soldier, the capo Larry Buttice was his uncle.
• Paolo (Peachey) Picchioni – He was another original member who served as a well known soldier for decades.
• Frank Correnti – Also affiliated with the Family, Correnti was said to hold an interest in the Twinspot Lounge.
• Lorenzo (Larry Buttita) Buttice – Born 1892, of 1112 Kent Street, Rockford. Buttice was documented as a Family “capodecina”, and a very influential member.
• Antonio (Tony) Castrogiovanni – of 1509 Montegue Street, Rockford. He held the liquor license for The Aragona Club in his name. Considered a Family “associate.”
• Antonio (Tony) Domino – Although not in LCN per se, Domino was closely allied with Joe Zito and Calo in alcohol bootlegging years ago. He later went into the retail liquor store business.
There were several other Domino’s connected to this borgata, including John and Joe, both of whom were active in Rockford’s rackets.
• Frank Ingrassia – He was a former bootlegger who was arrested in 1937 on alcohol bootlegging charges in Debuque, Iowa, for which he later received 6-months in jail. Despite his criminal record, he later finagled to became a corporate officer of the Illinois Wholesale Liquor Company, based in Rockford.
• Nunzio Ingrassia – Frank’s brother, and a close “associate” of the Zammuto Family. He owned and operated a furniture store. Back during Prohibition he ran illegal alcohol, partnered with Frank and Joe Domino. They operated stills around the Wisconsin area.
• Another Ingrassia was Theodore or “Teddy”. He was one of the first bootleggers active in the area with Tony Musso. The Ingrassia’s were thought to be related through marriage to Dallas boss Joe Civello.
• Giuseppe (Gramps) Marinelli – aka “Joe” or “Pops”. He was a longtime soldier of the Family. Ostensibly in the aluminum siding business, he was originally said to have been “made” under boss Tony Musso.
• Angelo Gaziano – He was the son-in-law of Zammuto. Gaziano was not a mob member per se, but was closely associated with his father-in-law.
• Another known soldier was Joseph Maggio, who operated in narcotics (cocaine) rackets, until later being gunned down gangland-style in 1980. He was found shot to death in his auto. A large amount of cash was recovered from his body.
• Charles snd Samuel Lazzio – Closely associated with top members of the Family. Lazzio owned the popular North Towne Lounge. His brother Sam bartended-managed the business.
• Gaspare (Jasper St. Angel) Santangelo – He was associated with the Family. He also had a reputation as a prominent guy within the Family.
• Thomas Pendergast – A major old time gambler and bookmaker allied with this network.
And a bit later in the Zammuto Family’s history, several dozen native Sicilians would come over to America and augment the troops including:
• Salvatore (Sam) Galluzzo – Who was born in Aragona, Sicily in 1934, immigrated to Rockford in the 1960s with his two brothers, Michele and Natale, all of whom quickly affiliated with the Rockford Family.
The three Galluzzo’s were cousins to Frank Buscemi, who was said to have sponsored their arrival to America, as well as their future sponsorship as members, into the Rockford Family.
Natale currently operates several area pizzerias. Years back he was indicted for arson, related to an insurance fraud he perpetrated. Natale and Michele were also known to run high-stakes card games for the Family.
A brother-in-law, Salvatore DiGiacomo, joined them from Sicily as well. They all went into the pizzeria business. He also later took over control of capo Charlie Vince’s Sta-Von Tavern and converted it into the Night & Day Disco, on W. State Street.
Salvatore DiGiacomo and his brother Alfonso, also later purchased Rondinella Foods, Inc., from Buscemi.
• Frank (Gumba) Saladino, born 1945, he was the son of Giorgio Saladino. He lived in Rockford for years and operated there, as well as in the Windy City, where he allied with the Chicago Family.
• In the 1980s and 1990s, another Sicilian immigrant named Joseph Saladino became active in Rockford’s rackets as well. He and his fellow Sicilians were suspected of entrenching themselves into the gambling, narcotics, strong-arm, and extortion fields of operation.
Collectively, they breathed new life into this aging borgata.
As of today, additional current members of the Family are alleged to include:
• Born in 1948, John (Tiger) Frisella, is listed as a current soldier of the Family who co-headed a large network of sports bookmaking locations around Rockford, that was still in operation as late as the 1990s into the 2000s.
He was also active in operating casino-style games such as blackjack, roulette and crap games. Frisella was actually arrested with several other Family members back in 1994 for running a illegal casino.
• Ignazio (Iggy) Seminerio – He was born in 1941. Iggy immigrated from Aragona as a young man by the mid-1960s, he was said to be another cousin to Buscemi. Suspected of involvement in both gambling and international narcotics smuggling.
• Nicholas (Nick) Provenzano – Born in 1961, he is another of the newer set of Rockford gamblers and racket guys. Provenzano figured into the arrests of eight area bookmakers nabbed by the FBI in 2005. They were all charged with operating a multi-location sports betting ring that grossed over $500,000 annually.
• Additionally, Frank A. Buscemi, son of former boss Frankie Bush, is suspected of being an inducted member of the Family. Born in 1957, he was allied with his father in many of their activities.
At one time he and his father owned and operated the Plaza Suite Disco, at 640 Hollister Avenue, which later went bankrupt.
And there were several other Sicilian immigrants that bolstered their small membership, allowing it to continue as a viable entity well into the 2000s, and beyond.
Several major incidents that support this theory, were the following documented investigations and arrests:-During the infamous “Pizza Connection” heroin case of the mid and late 1980s, the City of Rockford figured into the investigation in ways that went largely unnoticed at the time.
The Sicilian-based mafia boss Gaetano (Tano) Badalamenti, headed a massive heroin importation and distribution ring thought to have smuggled thousands of kilograms of top grade heroin into the United States from Europe for years.
Rockford figured into the probe after federal authorities learned that several of the drug network’s operatives and distributors were residing and working in the Rockford area, and were affiliated with the Zammuto Family.
It was said that they handled large quantities of both heroin and cocaine for distribution throughout the Midwest.
It’s alleged that one of the drug rings key conduits was Pietro Alfano, who would later be shot and paralyzed on a Manhattan street during the highly publicized “Pizza Connection Trial”.
Alfano was thought to have been a blood cousin to Frank Buscemi. Other Illinois-based Sicilian immigrants later nabbed in the probe, all active in the pizzeria business and connected by blood or marriage were: Emmanuel Palazzolo, Giuseppe Vitale, Giuseppe Tropiano, and Samuel Evola.
In 1989, a police raid nabbed soldier Frank Giardono and several others on gambling violations.
Then in 1994, another probe led to the gaming indictments of Frank Giardano, his brother Sam Giardono, John (Tiger) Frisella, Louis Labella, Frank Vargas, and Azmi Radwan for possession of gambling equipment used in the operation of a floating casino.
Authorities confiscated thousands of dollars in cash, dice, cards, card and crap tables, a roulette wheel, etc).
All pled out to fines and suspended sentences.
Eleven years later in 2005, in a coordinated effort between the FBI and local police, 8 members were indicted for running a large sports betting network operating throughout Rockford.
After an intensive five year probe, soldiers John (Tiger) Frisella, Frank Giardono and Joseph (Joe Pep) Fiorenza, were arrested along with associate members Nicholas (Nick) Provenzano, John (Johnny Finooch) Salamone, Nicholas (Nicky Pep) Fiorenza, Rick Fiorenza, and Charles Purin, for operating a gambling business said to have been active for over twenty years since the 1980s.
These four federal investigations aimed at the Rockford Family’s activities as late as the mid-2000s show that the old Joseph Zammuto Family of LCN is still operating, albeit in a reduced state of prominence.
Many former Cosa Nostra Families around the country have long since gone into extinction. In many major cities the remaining borgatas hang by a thread. Yet, the tiny Joseph Zammuto Family of LCN is still in operation, albeit admittedly, in a reduced state of prominence as well.
It is amazing to me that this tiny, little borgata has had the resilience to outlive many of it’s mob brethren, in some cases, by upwards of two to three decades!
What follows below is a chart of the membership and structure of the Joseph Zammuto Family, from its formation in the mid-1930s through the 2000s. A impressive 70 year span of continuous operation.
Note: Not all inducted members operated in the same era. It was estimated that the membership averaged 20-30 “made” men at their peak.
The Zammuto Family of Rockford, IL
*connotes elevated to boss
^ connotes an “associate”
Philip Priola Sr.
Salvatore Galluzzo *
SOLDIERS / TOP ASSOCIATES ^
Frank A. Buscemi^
Frank J. Buscemi
Alfonso Di Giacomo^
Salvatore Di Giacomo
Giuseppe Di Girolamo
Frank Giardono Sr.^
Frank Giardono Jr.
Francesco Zammuto ^
Additional second-tier associates included:
This article was originally posted “here“