Joseph Iacobacci – “Joe Loose” of the Cleveland Mob

Joseph Iacobacci

When Joseph Iacobacci died earlier this year of natural causes, his death marked an end of an era for the Cleveland Mafia. Iacobacci nicknamed “Joe Loose” for his violent ways as a young man that made fellow gangsters quip he had a “screw loose” in his head, led his Cleveland Crime family during a tumultuous time for the Mafia. He controlled Cleveland’s rackets in the early 1990s and into the 2010s, an era when the Mob was reeling from intense pressure from the FBI and local law enforcement. Despite all of the heat from the police, Iacobacci is one of the few mob bosses to avoid long prison stints and retire by choice, dying of natural causes well after he left the Mafia behind him.

From Burglar to Mobster

Joseph Iacobacci grew up in an Italian American neighborhood in Cleveland. He became a criminal at an early age, staging burglaries targeting businesses across Cleveland. He earned the “loose” moniker for his violent temper as a young criminal roaming Cleveland’s streets. He soon drew the attention of local gangsters due to his success as a burglar and his street smarts and began his journey from foot soldier to leader of the Cleveland Crime Family.

James Licavoli holding his jacket

A local gangster named James Licavoli took a liking to the tough, burly Iacobacci, and soon put him to work doing collections and other enforcement work for his faction of the Cleveland Mob. At the time, the Cleveland Mafia was a small but lucrative racket. Gangsters in the city benefitted from their ties to the corrupt Teamsters Union, and raked in cash from union construction jobs, along with their gambling and loansharking. Licavoli was a rising star in the Cleveland Crime Family, and he carried Iacobacci up with him as he rose through the ranks.

Bomb City USA

By the mid 1970s the Cleveland Crime Family Iacobacci had joined was at odds with the city’s Irish Mob, led by Danny Greene. Joe Loose was on the front lines of that war to control the city’s rackets, which rapidly escalated into violence. The war between the city’s two organized crime factions was noted for its use of bombs. The Irish and Italian gangsters used bombs in assassination attempts as well as to vandalize aligned businesses. There were so many explosion ringing through the streets of Cleveland that the national press soon nicknamed it “Bomb City, USA. Eventually both Greene and the leader of the Cleveland Crime family would both fall victim to the deadly improvised explosives.

Iacobacci’s patron Licavoli would eventually rise to lead the Cleveland Crime family after the end of the mob war there. However, as the 1980s began, the Cleveland Mafia entered a tumultuous time. Already weakened by their war with the Irish, a wave of law enforcement scrutiny would soon hobble the Mafia’s leadership even further. Licavoli went to prison in 1982 in connection with Greene’s death in the mob war. A string of other bosses would come and go, usually ending their time at the reins with a long prison sentence. Iacobacci himself spent several years in prison at the end of the decade, following convictions for drug trafficking and bank fraud. Iacobacci left prison at a time when the Cleveland Crime Family was in tatters from intense law enforcement pressure. After the family’s leadership was ensnared in the investigations and sent to prison, Joe Loose Iacobacci took the reins of the Cleveland Mob.

The Boss of Cleveland

There was little left of the Cleveland Crime Family when Iacobacci took it over in the 1990s. However, at a time when the FBI and police were tearing the Mafia apart across the nation, Joseph Iacobacci actually built the Mob back up in Cleveland. He recruited a new generation of “Made Men” and put them on the streets earning. While they had to deal with an entirely new kind of law enforcement scrutiny that the mob had never seen before, the Cleveland Crime Family was nonetheless able to earn millions of dollars with old and new rackets.

Iacobacci also worked hard to establish stronger ties with other crime families around the country as well. He built up a relationship with the infamous Chicago Outfit, and did business with the DeCavalcante Crime Family in New Jersey, as well as the Detroit Mob. By the time of Iacobacci’s  retirement in the 2010s, The Cleveland Crime family also extended the reach of its own criminal network, with reported activities in Youngstown, Pittsburgh and even Rochester, New York. Joe Loose Iacobacci was one of the few mob bosses to peacefully step down from a family avoid prosecution and retire. He died of a heart attack at age 70 in April 2020.

Parting Thoughts: A Mob Boss Who Flew Under the Radar

While “Joe Loose” Iacobacci may not be a household name, he nonetheless turned out to be one of the more successful mob bosses of the late 20th Century. He took over the Cleveland Crime Family when it was in tatters and built it up into a powerful earning crime syndicate. He did all of this while avoiding unprecedented law enforcement pressure that was taking down much more powerful Mafia families around the country. Iacobacci was even able to retire and avoid either a bloody end or a prison cell, the fates that befell most of his mob boss contemporaries in the 1980s and 1990s. However, despite his apparent success as a Mafia leader, “Joe Loose’s” legacy is pretty modest; the Cleveland Crime family, while reportedly still active, is just a shadow of its former self.

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