By The Other Guy | June 25, 2020
Located along Lake Ontario in the top half of Western New York State, the City of Rochester has a current population of just over 200,000 residents. But when the overall, greater Rochester metropolitan area is considered, it boasts just over one million people.
Sandwiched between Buffalo (73 miles away) and Syracuse (87 miles away), the city ranks as the third largest city in the state behind New York City and Buffalo. Located in Monroe County, it is approximately 35 square miles in size.
Rochester was the original birthplace of Kodak, Paychex, Western Union, French’s, Bausch & Lomb, Gleason, Ragu’, and Xerox.
Yet, it is a largely depressed region, with a black population of over 40%, and a poverty rate that tops a staggering 33% of its residents. It has seen its population drop by roughly one third from its 1950 high of over 330,000 residents, who called the city home.
The city was once a Mecca for Italian immigrants, who flocked up to Rochester in droves upon coming to America.
It never had one clearly delineated “Little Italy” neighborhood per se, yet even today, still one in five of its residents can boast Italian lineage.
But as the decades past, and they achieved higher education and growing affluence, by the 1960s the Italian people by and large were leaving the city for more expensive housing in the area’s bucolic outer suburbs.
Today, only 12% of city residents are of Italian extraction. But it wasn’t always that way.
Back in the day, the city of Rochester was a vibrant city that drew many Italians because of its wealth, business opportunities and growing metropolis.
Since at least the 1920s, it also had a vibrant underworld that hosted a variety of ethnicities, all trying to grab their portion of the city’s illicit rackets.
But no group became more prevalent than the Italian crime groups of the city.
It is well-documented that a variety of independent and semi-independent Italian racketeers operated in the city, running a host of varied rackets through the years.
By at least the early 1940s, it seems that the mafia boss of the city of Buffalo, Stefano Magaddino, had cast his considerable shadow over Rochester, and considered it part of his racket domain.
Magaddino, who had immigrated from Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily, was one of the most important mafioso in America in that era, and the undisputed Capo of all Upstate New York.
It’s been well-documented over the years by the FBI, that various racketeers and mafiosi connected to his Family operated in Rochester. It was also well known that he regularly received his tithe as kingpin of the territory.
And yet, a funny thing happened along the way to maintaining that city as his personal mafia utopia.
It seems that by at least the early 1960s, a notorious racketeer who lived and operated in Rochester became its resident boss or “capo.”
More than that, it seems (and is well documented) that he actually formed his very own mafia borgata. And was clearly recognized as the “official” boss over all of the city.
That man was Frank Valenti, who with his brother Stanley, became the two highest profile mafiosi to ever operate in the city of Rochester.
THIS IS THEIR STORY!
Frank Joseph Valenti – aka “Francesco Valenti” (TN), “The Sphinx”, “Frank Valente”, “Frankie Ross” – was born on September 14, 1911 at 182 Mt. Hope Avenue in Rochester, NY. One of twelve children born into the family of Joseph and Rosalie Valenti.
He lived in Rochester until about 1930, at which time he relocated to the City of Pittsburgh, where he resided at 4606 Brownsville Road. By 1950, he had relocated to 6326 Monitor Street.
By early 1957, he was back living in Rochester, where he had his large family brood of parents, siblings, and other relatives. Valenti was residing at 1410 Highland Avenue.
FBI # 752390, Pittsburgh PD # 27741
In his early years, he operated in the Pittsburgh section of Pennsylvania, where he became a top hoodlum before reestablishing himself back in the City of Rochester decades later, where he had been raised and the Valenti family was also well known.
He had a much younger brother named Contenze, aka “Stanley”, who was very close with him, in both personal and business matters.
Stanley married Catherine Ripepi, the daughter of Antonio Ripepi, making both brothers related through marriage to a top Calabrian mafia figure, and LaRocca Family Caporegime.
He was also a known associate of Sebastian LaRocca, Samuel Mannarino, Michael Genovese, Joe Rosa, Dominick Anzalone, Geno Serventi, Jimmy Mattarazza, Joseph and Salvatore Falcone, and Vincent Scro. All of whom were notorious mafiosi.
Always a flashy hood, Frank had a reputation as a very well-dressed, dapper mafioso, who looked like a mobster straight out of central casting…it was a role he relished, and the news photographers ate up.
He was a slim, good looking man, who stood 5-feet 9-inches tall and weighed a trim 168pounds with a full head of coiffed grayish hair, which he styled into a duck-tail. He cut an imposing figure in gangland, and paraded around the city as its most dapper hood.
As a young hoodlum, he became a notorious figure in Pittsburgh, to both the police department and the local underworld.
He was reportedly a wild man, and unafraid to flex his muscles, and push his way through Pittsburgh’s underworld as he attempted to gain prominence, and grab hold of his piece of the city’s rackets.
Valenti soon came to the attention of the resident mafiosi who ruled the territory and was taken under the wing of several established Italian racketeers, the most important of which was capo Antonio Ripepi.
Ripepi was an old-fashioned Calabrian Camorrista, who later joined the Sicilian-based Mafia. He was thought to have carried tremendous weight and respect within the Italian underworld, not only in Pittsburgh, but throughout the entire nation.
Because Frank’s brother Stanley had married Ripepi’s daughter. It gave both brothers a mob “license” so to speak, and a wide berth to pretty much operate as they wished.
Frank Valenti would actively operate within Pittsburgh from the 1930s through the 1950s era.
He too, would gain a wife like his brother Stanley, and three children as well, along the way. But after 9 years of marriage they divorced and Frank later got remarried to a young Indian girl twenty years his junior, named Eileen Barefoot.
Frank picked up a long string of arrests along the way as well.
Starting in 1933 his record included:
- 1933 – assault
- 1934 – counterfeiting (2 years)
- 1934 – criminal inquiry
- 1934 – suspicion of forgery
- 1936 – blackmail
- 1937 – extortion
- 1938 – breaking and entering
- 1940 – liquor tax violations (1 year)
- 1942 – gambling
- 1944 – assault and battery
- 1944 – robbery investigation
- 1946 – accessory to murder
- 1947 – conspiracy to violate the selective service act
- 1948 – violation of the training act
- 1958 – contempt of court (jailed for an indeterminate period)
- 1960 – voter fraud (3 years probation)
- 1972 – conspiracy and extortion (8 years federal prison)
He had the reputation as a strong-arm man and killer for the mafia, who was suspected in a string of gangland murders over the years.
He was the prime suspect in the double-murder of policy racketeers Freddie Garrow and Frank Evans in 1946.
Valenti was also heavily engaged in the “black market” rackets of sugar, and gas ration stamps. But at the time authorities stated that “he was too high up in the racket hierarchy to make any case against him stick.”
In 1953, Valenti was identified by a jeweler as one of three men who hijacked him on a highway in route to Pittsburgh, while he was carrying a briefcase full of precious stones and cash. He was subsequently robbed of these belongings.
At one time, Frank Valenti was considered Public Enemy #1 by the police in the city of Pittsburgh.
It was also documented by investigators that by the 1950s, Stanley Valenti was integral to the Treasury Balance ticket racket in the Rochester area.
The Valenti brothers growing prominence was clearly evident by their attendance at the infamous 1957 Mafia summit at Apalachin, New York.
Attended by over 100 of the country’s most important mafiosi, the racketeer bbq gave out invitations to only area bosses and their top hierarchy members. To be present at such a meeting is a telling sign of their position in the Italian underworld by the 1950s era.
Frank was one of 62 such mafiosi nabbed and detained by New York State Troopers, after they conducted a massive raid on Binghamton boss Giuseppe Barbara’s sprawling estate.
The subsequent nationwide newspaper exposure, and federal investigations the event would generate, would bring Frank Valenti’s name to prominence forever more.
By the mid 1950s, it seems that the Valenti brothers had relocated to the City of Rochester, New York. Once there, the brothers would quickly take over the city’s entire underworld.
He became part owner of Valenti’s, an Italian restaurant located at 123 State Street. Valenti previously owned the Doreen Jewelry Shop, and also partnered with his brothers Sam, John and Stanley, in his family’s Valenti Brothers Wholesale Produce Company, located at 202 Hamilton Street, in Rochester.
Over the years he acquired ownership interests in many other eateries including La Golondrina Restaurant, The Quill, Villa Roma, The Swallow, The Spaghetti Village, The Night Owl, Club 30, and another popular nightclub he named The Diamond Room.
He also held ownership in several notorious illegal after-hours clubs over the years in Pittsburgh, one of which was called American Boosters Assn (ABA).
He started to entrench himself there, but by 1960, Frank was put on ice for three years by a federal judge who banished him from the city based on a voter fraud conviction. A minor criminal charge that was used as an excuse to expel the hoodlum back to Pittsburgh for the three years.
But Frank was nothing if not determined, and very capable. He set his sights on taking over, and in doing so, upon his release off probation, quickly targeted the recognized leader of the Italian faction in the city for extermination.
In 1964, Giacomo (Jake Russo) Russolesi disappeared shortly after Valenti arrived in Rochester. And from that point forward, Frank was the #1 man again.
With Russolesi gone, everybody else fell in line. It allowed Frank to become the recognized boss of the city once and for all.
Valenti immediately started inducting several dozen resident Italian hoods he trusted. Making them formally recognized “soldiers” in his fledgling borgata.
Next he appointed several newly minted mafiosi to “captain” status,and formed several crews.
They next systematically started traveling throughout the city to shake down all the independent gaming operators; bookmakers, policy racketeers, guys running floating dice and card games, illegal money lenders, etc.
Within months the Valenti Family was said to have organized better than 50% of the city’s organized underworld. And they were now steadily bringing in weekly envelopes totaling many thousands of dollars. They were on their way!
In 1965, FBI agents on surveillance caught several higher-ups in the Rochester Police Department clandestinely meet with Valenti. Detective Supervisor Lucien Di Giovanni and Detective John Li Pari of the Vice Control Unit, meet with the mobster several times.
When questioned about these meetings in follow up departmental hearings on the matter, the detectives emphatically denied ever meeting with Valenti. After being repeatedly grilled they eventually admitted the meetings.
For his part, Valenti repeatedly pled the Fifth Amendment before investigative panels.
It was a small Mafia Family by Cosa Nostra standards, only numbering several dozen members. But it was a bona fide, recognized Mafia borgata nonetheless.-In 1964, The New York Times wrote an extensive front-page story titled: “Rochester Upset By Mafia Report; Residents Caught in Middle as Police Watch Valenti.”
The news article went on to report about how the police were watching the city’s underworld intensely now that Frank Valenti had returned to Rochester. And that a celebratory dinner, attended by over 100 of the city’s mob guys, had been held in Valenti’s honor to welcome him back.
That he’d come back after a three-year court-appointed exile for a voter fraud conviction. A judge had banished him back to Pittsburgh for that duration. Now that the sentence had ended, Valenti had returned.
It also went on to state that since his return, there had been several beatings, shootings, and car bombings of independent gamblers and racketeers who failed to fall in line under Valenti’s domination.
Valenti and his troops were now reorganizing the city’s rackets under the Valenti Family of Cosa Nostra, and anybody who refused to share their racket profits with Valenti soon became a victim of mafia vengeance.
It was a damning article, and a story widely publicized around the country…It is no wonder Valenti garnered the notorious, and deadly reputation that he did.
Subsequent to the release of the story, in fact the very same day, both local Rochester and New York State Police conducted 35 raids, and made over 141 arrests on various gambling operations around the city.
Side Note: Although his brother Stanley has often been identified as the actual “boss” of that city, he was but a door holder for Frank, who was the real gangster and force to be reckoned with. It was because of Stanley’s marriage to Ripepi’s daughter that often led to this thinking, but there is no data to back it up.
In truth, although an inducted mafia soldier, Stanley operated and oversaw their joint business, Valenti Brothers Produce Company. With the exception of his attendance at Apalachin in 1957, Stanley managed to stay away from most street rackets per se. He largely ran under the radar, both before and after the Apalachin debacle.
Side Note: There has been much conjecture and speculation over the years about just how Frank Valenti was able to formulate a brand new mafia Family in Rochester, and be widely recognized as its “official” boss, but he did. Rochester had traditionally been under the auspices of the Magaddino Family of Buffalo. Yet, boss Stefano Magaddino allowed this “Johnny come lately” to invade a Buffalo Family bailiwick without reprisals.
It was thought that the Pittsburgh Family gave the ok for Valenti to travel to Rochester, to organize a borgata and consolidate the city’s rackets.
But this could only have been accomplished with the blessing of the Buffalo boss.
It is possible, in fact probable, that although Valenti did indeed become boss of his very own small mafia borgata, he still sent an occasional “tribute” to the longtime recognized overall capo of the Upstate New York and Toronto, Canada area, Stefano Magaddino.
There has also been conjecture that Valenti was still under the protection and dictates of the Pittsburgh Family, from which he started from.
Or that he was in fact later subservient to New York City’s Bonanno Family, of which several members of the Rochester crew held strong ties to.
And lastly, that for whatever reason Valenti was completely autonomous. And was truly a boss in his own right.
Side Note: The formation of a new mafia Family so many years after the original 1931 structuring of several dozen Families across the country was in and of itself, a very unique and strange occurrence. I can think of no other time during the Mafia’s existence in the United States of something like this happening.
He ruled over a small membership that probably numbered no more than 25 to 30 or so inducted mafia members.
But of course they dealt with the larger Rochester underworld which was comprised of many ethnicities.
Frank Valenti was thought to have been the boss from 1964 through 1972.
By the early 1970s trouble was brewing within his Family by several subordinates who accused him of diverting monies due their troops.
He was accused of robbing their borgata, and soon faced an insurrection, ultimately forcing him to abdicate power, and his expulsion from the Family. He essentially became “persona non grata”, and was forced to flee the city for fear of being killed.
Whatever previous backing he had from the Pittsburgh crew and it’s mob powers was no longer, and Valenti was thought to have hightailed from Rochester. He never returned to the area, or was a player in the city’s underworld again.
1972 was an especially bad year for Frank. Valenti also suffered his arrest, conviction, and jailing for conspiracy and extortion in the shakedown of a Batavia, New York, contractor.
Finally paroled from federal prison in 1980. he immediately left New York State, never to return again.
But even with Valenti long gone, the Rochester Family was an unruly and contentious bunch, even amongst themselves. In the coming years, the various soldiers and capos would argue and split into at least three separate factions.
This unstable Family ultimately waged a gang war on one another, which destroyed them from within.
They were a very small Family to begin with, and between them killing each other off, and the federal onslaught brought down on them by the FBI and local authorities in an attempt to quell the warfare, was more than the borgata could withstand.
Wanton gangland shootings and murders, with bodies left strewn in the streets, dynamite car bombings and other mob mayhem, would eventually bring intense law enforcement scrutiny and many prosecutions that ripped apart whatever semblance of organization the Family had left.
During their investigations, law enforcement tracked the carnage. Police categorized the various splintered mob factions as Team A, Team B, Team C.
These various factions were alternately headed by Samuel (Red) Russotti, Salvatore (Sammy G) Gingello, Thomas Didio, Tommy Marotta, and Rene Piccarreto.
Other key combatants included Angelo Amico, Dominic Chirico, Richie Marino, Dominick Taddeo, Joseph (Joe the Hop) Rossi, Donald Paone, and Joseph (Joe T) Trieste, among many other soldiers and associates engaged in this conflict.
Among the gangland casualties were Dom Chirico, Didio, Gingello, John Fiorino, Vincent (The Hammer) Massaro, and Nicky Mastrodonato.
As a result of the carnage and police pressure several members also turned informer. These included Joseph (Spike) LoNovara, Albert DeCanzio, Joseph LaMendola, and Angelo Monachino, among others.
By the time all the gangland smoke had cleared, there was nothing left of the Rochester Family of Cosa Nostra. It can be argued that they were the shortest tenured Mafia Family in the history of the United States.
Only operating from approximately the early 1960s through the 1980s, they were arguably the most unequipped, and ill-prepared bunch of mafia ner-do-wells to ever don a “button”!
Their most storied member, Frank J. Valenti, died with his shoes off, in an nursing home located at Sugar Land, Texas, at the very ripe old age of 97 years old in 2008.
After his expulsion from Rochester, Valenti had first relocated out to Arizona, and in his later years moved on to Texas. It was a quiet end to a very tumultuous life.
Side Note: Frank’s brother Stanley, born in 1926, would live to the age of 75 years old, passing away in 2001.
The Rochester Family of Cosa Nostra is no longer active in that city. There will always be racketeers in one form or another. But the organized Italian element of the Mafia is but a bygone memory in Rochester.
This article was originally posted “here“