By The Other Guy | August 20, 2020
The first boss or “Representante” of the San Jose Family of Cosa Nostra was said to have been Onofrio Sciortino. He formulated this small borgata many years after the original formation of the national Commission in 1931 by New York City boss Salvatore (Charlie Lucky Luciano) Lucania and the other original mafia leaders from across the nation.
The San Jose “borgata” was thought to have been created with the help of established mob elements from several other borgatas to gain a foothold on the west coast and by drawing from a small community of immigrant Sicilians to structure the “Family.”
What became known as the Sciortino Family was organized in the early 1940s period during the early years of WWII. Nufio Sciortino was nominated to lead the borgata which at its peak was never thought to have exceeded 20-25 formally inducted mafiosi in any given era.
Born in Bagheria, Sicily back in 1891 and immigrated to America by 1913, little was ever known about Sciortino because most of his tenure was before the infamous “Apalachin Mafia Summit” meeting of November 14, 1957. Federal and local law enforcement efforts and their intelligence gathering capabilities really only started in earnest after the Apalachin conference.
So, although it is widely thought that he was the first leader, there was never electronic eavesdropping or intensive investigative efforts targeted against him. There is very limited knowledge about Sciortino’s early life because of it. It was thought that Sciortino and his older brother Carmelo (born 1885) had actually started out under the auspices of the San Francisco Family and had later shifted over to San Jose in order to develop and expand the mafia’s grip over that city’s underworld.
They and their uncle through marriage, mafioso Giuseppe (Pepino) Vicari all made the move to San Jose to start up their own borgata. The original hierarchy was thought to have been Onofrio Sciortino as Capo, Giuseppe Vicari as Sottocapo, Filippo Morici as Consigliere, and Carmelo Sciortino as their lead capo di decina. They and a small contingent of like-minded San Francisco members were allowed to set up in San Jose. This borgata would also come to oversee mob operations in the City of Modesto as well.
After Sciortino’s death in 1959 the leadership was entrusted to Giuseppe (Joe) Cerrito, a native of Villabate, Sicily, a small town located on the outskirts of the City of Palermo. Born on January 25, 1911, he had immigrated to the United States in 1924 and settled in New York City, later migrating out to California by the early 1940s. Cerrito would become widely recognized as the “official” boss or “Capo” of the Family from 1959 until his death in 1978.
Dating back to the 1930s, the Cerrito family had originally lived on 84th Street in Manhattan after immigrating from Sicily. Joe Cerrito operated successfully in the wholesale butcher business.
Some years later, Joe and other members of his blood family decided to migrate out to the west coast. Giuseppe (Joe) Cerrito would reside for many years at 421 San Jose Avenue, Los Gatos, California. Ostensibly a well-liked prosperous businessman in the community, he tried to lead his followers for many years in a low key manner. In fact little in the way of major investigations, indictments and arrests were ever written about the San Jose Family, both before and after Cerrito’s tenure as boss.
Cerrito was an intimate of New York City boss Giuseppe (The Old Man) Profaci. In fact it is thought that Cerrito may have started out under the auspices of the Profaci Family before heading out west to establish the brotherhoods footprint and operations in San Jose. It is well documented that Cerrito’s brother Salvatore (Sal) Cerrito was a longtime Profaci Family intimate and “soldato” who later also transferred to the San Jose borgata, and close contact between the two borgata’s was maintained over the decades.
Another close tie-in with to the New York boss Giuseppe (Joe Bananas) Bonanno. I’m not sure of the origin date for this relationship, but Bonanno was always a very close friend and affiliate to Profaci. So it would stand to reason that this “friendship” and “connection” extended between Cerrito and Bonanno as well. Certainly Bonanno planting his flag in Tuscon, Arizona, may have brought the two mob bosses closer as well. It is well documented that several former Bonanno soldiers later migrated further west to San Jose and were thought to have affiliated with the Cerrito Family.
Both Gregory Genovese and Prospero (Prospect) Mule who were previously connected as “soldiers” to Bonanno’s Family were suspected of having possibly transferred their memberships out to the Cerrito borgata. Prospero’s father Vito Mule was indeed an FBI documented former soldier of the old Joseph Bonanno Family in New York. Nicolo (Nick) Guastella was another longtime soldier dating to the Castellammarese War years of 1929-1931 who later transferred his membership to the San Jose Family after he moved to California in the 1940s.
Side Note: It is also thought that the Profaci Family always represented the Cerrito Family on the Commission. Their close “Villabate” ties and interactive blood membership is another indication of this and does make sense from a “trust” standpoint between the two mob bosses.
Of course, being situated in California it stands to reason that the San Jose Family had the most interaction with both the San Francisco Family led by longtime boss James (Jimmy the Hat) Lanza, and the larger Los Angeles Family which was traditionally headed by boss Jack Dragna, and later Nicolo (Nick) Licata. The L.A. Family also held sway over the City of San Diego were they had a formal regime headed by veteran capo Girolamo (Momo) Adamo.
Joe Cerrito was the wealthy owner of several popular automobile dealerships in San Jose including the large Los Gatos Ford dealership and San Jose Imports Inc., a foreign and exotic-car importer. He also held ownership in several properties and buildings that he leased out for rental income over the years.
Joe Cerrito was one of the 62 mafia leaders and their top brass caught in the law enforcement dragnet staged by the New York State Police in 1957 at Apalachin in Upstate New York. The unwanted exposure this event would cast upon Cerrito would later cause him to lose a major automobile dealership he owned and operated.
It all started after the wildly popular Life Magazine published an expansive expose’ about the Apalachin debacle and the Italian Mafia in general in which Cerrito was named as a top Mafia figure who headed his own Family. The Commission bosses back in New York didn’t know how to curtail and stop this growing groundswell of adverse publicity targeting them and their operations. They decided that they’d fight “fire with fire” by suing the periodical for slander and malice.
But who could lead the fight? The likes of Vito Genovese, Frank Costello, Carlo Gambino and many other mafiosi were way to notorious a figures to try and claim “slander.” They needed a name, a person, who by and large was “clean” and a pillar of his community who could rightfully claim to have been wrongly vilified by their news article.
Joseph Cerrito was THAT person! Cerrito had never before been publicly identified as a mafia member or racketeer. He had no prior police record per se. Ostensibly he was a very above-board wealthy legitimate businessman who led a seemingly “squeaky clean” life and was a pillar of his community.
Buffalo Family boss and senior Commission member Stefano Magaddino strongly encouraged Cerrito on behalf of all their Cosa Nostra brethren to bring a seven-million dollar civil lawsuit against Life Magazine. The mafia boss demanded a retraction of all the slanderous accusations the magazine had said about Cerrito, his activities and all his alleged mob associates.
The result was a “pull out all stops” defensive investigation by the magazine’s lawyers (with the surreptious help of the FBI behind the scenes) in order to defend their previous newsprint and accusations about Cerrito indeed being a mafia member….it was a disaster for the Commission! A major backfire that blew right up in their face. Soon many top figures in the San Jose Family like Manny Figlia, Dom Anzalone and Steve Zoccoli received subpoenas to testify about their knowledge of Cerrito, his affairs and the mafia in general. Other top New York City mafiosi including bosses Carlo Gambino and Joseph Colombo received subpoenas as well.
The very public lawsuit and subsequent negative publicity it created would eventually force the Toyota and Ford Motor Company to distance themselves from Cerrito by rescinding his “dealership” license. This Commission “forced” miscalculation of events would cost the mob boss dearly, both in personal finances and reputation worse than if he’d just let the whole original news piece fade into the background as he originally wanted to… but a “Commission” order is not one to be ignored. It was his “duty” as a mafia member to follow their dictates.
Digressing a bit back to their Family unit and hierarchy, The Joseph Cerrito Family of LCN always maintained a lower functioning Family and operated on a more quiet level than that of larger and stronger borgatas in other cities. The members, by and large, were an older set of mafiosi, many of whom ran legitimate or quasi-legit businesses. They either had little desire, opportunity or ability to operate illicit “rackets” per se.
Some of the documented legitimate businesses that members of this small Family were known to operate are as follows: capo Manny Figlia who owned a used-car lot at 777 North 13th Street, in San Jose. Capo Angelo Marino who owned and operated the California Cheese Co., of 295 West San Carlos in San Jose. Over the years this company would become a major manufacturer and distributor of Italian-styled gourmet cheeses and was later sold to a major nationally known food company in a multimillion-dollar transaction.
Already in the Italian cheese industry to begin with, Marino also built and ran several pizzerias over the years including Shakey’s Pizza Parlor in San Leandro. He also partnered with soldier Frank Sorce in Angie’s Pizzeria. The Marino’s (Angelo and his mafioso son Sal) additionally owned the Patti Pizza Supply Company of San Jose, which was a wholesale Italian food products distributor to restaurants.
At one time the brothers Steve and Phil Zoccoli were also in the food business as owners of the Half Moon Restaurant before they later sold the business as they were both getting older. Family soldiers and brothers Antonio (Tony) and Donato (Danny) Ditri were ostensibly employed as pizza chef’s and partners in Rudolfo’s Pizzeria in Palo Alto. The Ditri brothers had also owned another San Jose restaurant.
Consigliere Filippo (Phil) Morici owned and operated a successful combination insurance and travel agency at 48 North Second Street, San Jose. Soldier Frank Buffa was partnered in a Modesto bakery business with New York mafioso Salvatore J. Profaci, the son of New York boss Joe Profaci.
Regime soldiers Vito Adragna and Dominick Anzalone were the owners and operators of a jukebox-cigarette and vending machine distributor in San Jose. They sometimes utilized fellow soldier Frank Sorce as a point man to secure new “spots” for their machines.
Boss Joe Cerrito owned the aforementioned Ford dealership he aptly named the Joseph Cerrito Lincoln-Mercury Sales Co., of 614 North Santa Cruz Avenue, Los Gatos. He also owned a used-car business at 401 Almaden Avenue, and the Edsel Sales Company, of 291 East Main Street, Los Gatos. This last business was a property leasing firm he owned that provided him monthly rental incomes.
Among some of his other ventures named above, at one time soldier Dominick Anzalone also held a partnership interest in the Peter Piper Motors Co., of San Jose before it went out of business in 1963. Another soldier named Alex Cammarata who was the son-in-law of Profaci underboss John (Big John) Misuraca of New York was involved with Misuraca’s brother Peter (also a Cerrito soldier) in Tom’s Shoe Repair Shop on Solano Avenue in Albany, California.
In 1966, it was also reported that the Cerrito Family had some influence with Local # 166 of the Wine Distillery & Rectifying Workers Unions, based in Beverly Hills, California, which was headed by Eugene (Gene) Bufalino, nephew of William (Bill) Bufalino, the famed mob-connected counsel and close companion of the infamous ex-president of the Teamsters Union Jimmy Hoffa. They were able to use their influence to help gain employment for various members and associates of the Family through their friendship and underworld affiliation with Bufalino and Hoffa.
Those members that were active in the rackets seem to have mostly kept their illegal operations to a little horse and sports bookmaking, a card game or two, and maybe some shylocking. This Family was never known to participate in such street rackets as truck hijacking, high-end burglaries, strong-arm extortion, slot machines, pervasive narcotics smuggling, etc.
Side Note: during the late 1940s and early 1950s the San Jose Family did figure into an interstate narcotics investigation after agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) tied several Profaci members to their brethren out in California.
The notorious international heroin smugglers and distributors Cristoforo Rubino and Sebastiano Nani (both said to be Profaci followers) operated several NYC to California narcotics networks that were later broken up by authorities. Suspected of having turned informant, Rubino was later shot to death on a Brooklyn street corner before he could provide informant testimony about the deeper connections between the two borgatas and any subsequent drug deals.
In many ways this “borgata” represented a true Sicilian Mafia Family from back in the “Old Country” where its members maybe only number 10 to 15 inducted mafiosi who are by and large small businessmen, cobblers, stonemasons, farmers, cattle dealers, tavern owners, sundry goods stop owners, maybe a doctor or lawyer among the bunch, etc.
Just because they were “Mafiosi” and inducted sworn members of a secret society didn’t mean that they had to necessarily be “criminals” or persons committing illegal acts to become members. By the very nature of the beast traditionally many did operate outside of the law, but it was not a formal prerequisite of membership to belong. Some of their members didn’t even have a local police record number, having never even been arrested or investigated.
From the mid 1940s through the 1980s their documented membership is listed below. And as with the members of all west coast Families, the mafiosi who joined these borgatas had mostly come from other east coast Families and had later transferred their mafia memberships under the umbrella of either the Los Angeles, San Francisco, or San Jose Families.
The largest Family on the west coast was of course that of Corleone, Sicily native Ignazio (Jack) Dragna. Many members of this Family would later spread out across California, some of them affiliating with the smaller San Francisco and San Jose crews.
Of the various east coast cities where most future San Jose members were drawn from were New York City’s Profaci and Bonanno Families as stated earlier which were paramount, the La Rocca Family of Pittsburgh, the Philadelphia Family, and Detroit’s Zerilli Family became the Cosa Nostra “member well” to draw from.
Pittsburgh provided Vito Adragna, Dominick Anzalone and capo Salvatore Marino. The Profaci’s provided the future boss himself Joseph Cerrito and his brother Salvatore, as well as Peter Misuraca who was the brother of onetime Profaci/Colombo underboss John Misuraca.
The Bonanno’s provided the aforementioned Guastella, Mule and Genovese. Detroit provided father and son capos Giuseppe Cusenza and Leonardo (Leo) Cusenza. And the Philadelphia Family provided Anthony Maggio of the notorious Maggio brothers.
These “blood” connections do not take into account additional intermarriages, several nephews, and various cousins among the membership between themselves and other mafiosi throughout the country.
In typical Cosa Nostra fashion although San Jose was very small in comparison to other borgatas, it nonetheless had the “ties that bound” it to Mafia Families throughout the United States and Italy as well.
THE JOSEPH CERRITO FAMILY OF SAN JOSE
Giuseppe (Joe) Cerrito
Angelo Marino (late 1970s)
Emanuelle Figlia (1980-1990s)
Mariano Guttadauro (1980-1990s)
Onofrio Sciortino (1942-1959)
Joseph Lintini (1942-1947)
Giuseppe Vicari (1940s-1957)
CAPO DI DECINA
Salvatore Marino Sr.
Salvatore Marino Jr.
Vincenzo Di Girolamo
This article was originally posted “here“