By The Other Guy | August 22, 2020
Somewhat of a Mafia phenomenon has to be the Cosa Nostra Family said to have existed for nearly sixty years in Madison, Wisconsin.
If in fact, it was even a formally recognized borgata and not just a satellite regime of the larger Balistrieri Family in nearby Milwaukee, which has been suggested by some, the network headed by Carlo Caputo was, without a doubt, the smallest mafia Family to ever exist in the United States.
Carlo Caputo was born in Bagheria on the outskirts of Palermo, Sicily back on September 21, 1903.
After immigrating to the United States in 1919 at age sixteen, he seems to have first migrated to Chicago where he was said to have quickly affiliated with a Sicilian Mafia faction in that city. Along the way he got married in 1930 to an Italian girl named Rosemarie.
The “official” mafia leader in the Windy City was Antonio (Tony) Aiello, who headed a small faction of “true” inducted Sicilian born mafiosi. He was an ally to the future “boss of all bosses” and leader of the Castellammarese faction, Salvatore Maranzano of New York City.
By the mid 1930s Caputo, Aiello’s brother Giuseppe (Pizza Pie Joe) Aiello, and several other Sicilian “amici” were said to have fled Chicago after Tony Aiello’s murder during a purge of the Sicilians by the much larger multi-ethnic Capone gang.
They relocated out to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where there existed another mafia Family headed by early mafia leader Vito Guardalabene Sr. Caputo and Aiello were welcomed by Guardalabene and were thought to have been formally “inducted” into the ranks of Cosa Nostra at that time.
Within a decade he and his “compare” Aiello were either sent, or chose on their own to move again to the nearby City of Madison where he and Aiello, also a native of Bagheria in Sicily who was born in 1901, joined with a small group of already established Italian racketeers in that city to structure what would later be referred to as the “Caputo Family of LCN”.
Madison is the capitol of the State of Wisconsin. As of 2020 the tiny City of Madison only has a total population of approximately 260,000 residents. Still, it is the second largest city in Wisconsin by population after Milwaukee.
But back in Carlo’s era, the little city didn’t even have that. It’s 1950 census recorded only 96,000 residents. By 1970, it had risen to a populous of 170,000.
So in truth, Madison is currently a “growth” city. But with less than 5% of its total population claiming Italian ancestry, this was probably another valid reason why their borgata was always so small. There just wasn’t enough of a “hoodlum talent pool” to draw potential mafiosi from.
Several other top members of this borgata had also hailed from the town of Bagheria, including a mafiosi who is thought to have been their original “capo” or head of the group, a man named Benedetto (Benny) DiSalvo. Born in 1878, he had immigrated to the United States in 1906. It was thought that DiSalvo led the group from the 1920s through 1940s era, at which time DiSalvo stepped down in favor of Caputo.
By the mid-1940s Caputo was said to have been named the boss. Joe Aiello allegedly became Caputo’s underboss.
Another key member of this group was DiSalvo’s son Cosmo DiSalvo. Born in Bagheria in 1904, Cosmo immigrated from Sicily with his parents at the tender age of two. He was thought to have been inducted into the ranks during his father’s tenure as the Family’s boss in the late 1930s. Cosmo would remain a quiet, but respected soldier carrying the proud DiSalvo surname.
One of the better known mafiosi in Madison’s ranks was capo di decina Filippo (Philly) Candella. He was a member that was widely known and respected by the Milwaukee, as well as the Chicago and Rockford, Illinois Families.
Side Note: Candela was employed since 1941 at the famed Grande Cheese Co., in Wisconsin. Grande had a notorious reputation, having been born from the ashes of an early 1940s mob war for control of the company.
The firm was ostensibly owned by Sicilian born Bonanno soldier John DiBella and boss Joe Bonanno himself. It became a multimillion-dollar firm as the country’s top supplier of mozzarella cheese to pizzerias across the U.S. An industry position the company proudly holds to this day.
In 1967, Candella and his then 21-year-old son John bought the entire company from DiBella for the paltry sum of $60,000. By 1977, the IRS brought a tax-fraud civil suit against Candela claiming he grossly understated his income for many years. After his conviction, Candela appealed the judgment and eventually won a full dismissal of the case.
Together these men led what at its 1950s peak the FBI said was a “borgata” that numbered no more than eight to ten formal members. And whatever mob “associates” were affiliated with them, collectively they didn’t even make a “bleep” on law enforcement’s radar screen.
As I mentioned above, there are some who say that Madison was in fact just an extension of the Balistrieri Family of Milwaukee. That Madison was but a single “regime” and that Caputo was in reality a “capo di decina”, not a true Family boss or “Capo”.
But the FBI says differently. They say that despite their tiny membership, the Madison Family was indeed a separate and distinct Family of Cosa Nostra, and that Carlo Caputo was the formally recognized “Representante” of his people.
And although the membership, by and large, were not heavily active in the typical rackets associated with organized crime, they were a group of mafiosi nonetheless.
There were several key mafiosi who were very active operating major rackets such as liquor bootlegging, robberies, bookmaking, card and dice games, shylocking, jukebox vending monopoly schemes, and narcotics among other racket endeavors. But at some point after Prohibition, they chose to relocate and realign with the Zammuto Family of Rockford.
In hindsight, this loss of key manpower and potential future leadership potentially hurt the small remaining Madison membership.
Among several top mafiosi who either transferred their memberships to Rockford or Milwaukee, or chose to join there initially instead of aligning to the Madison crew were men such as boss Antonio (Tony) Musso who had been a top local mafia leader in Madison until he had to flee the area in 1924 after he was tied to the murder of a policeman. Tony Musso would go on to become the first boss of the Rockford Family.
Or Frank (Frankie Bush) Buscemi, a cousin of Madison soldier Sam Buscemi who went to Rockford. He became a capo, underboss, and eventually the boss of Rockford. He also helped infuse the Rockford borgata with fresh recruits direct from Sicily to augment his Family in the mid-1960s. By that time, it was an infusion of blood Madison also desperately could have used.
To Milwaukee also went Benjamin DiSalvo and Andrea DiSalvo who were cousins to boss Benedetto DiSalvo and his son Cosmo DiSalvo. Vito Aiello who was a cousin of Joe Aiello was another mafioso who chose Milwaukee over Madison.
By the late 1960s several “made member” informants affiliated with Milwaukee boss Frank (Frankie Bal) Balistrieri related to the FBI during their debriefings that the Caputo Family “rank and file” had voted whether to dissolve their dormant borgata, or continue on. With the exception of two soldiers the membership voted to dissolve the Madison Family.
Side Note: It is believed that one of two acknowledged Milwaukee mafia members to become federal informants was August (Augie) Maniaci. He was a disgruntled soldier who was later shot to death in 1977. Fellow members may have no longer trusted Maniaci….they were correct of course.
With the disbandment of the borgata several elderly Madison members chose to just retire. The remaining younger members transferred their membership to the Milwaukee and Rockford borgatas.
Carlo Pietro Caputo – aka “Carl”, resided for many decades in a private residence at 4265 West Beltline, in Dane County, Madison. He was said to have been an extremely savvy and astute businessman who became a very respected member of the local Madison business community.
Upon first arriving to Madison, Caputo was said to have quickly started investing in the local real estate market.
Over the years, it was documented that he placed his focus on buying various properties, buildings and storefronts. He then refurbished them and leased them back out to various local businessmen looking to open stores and businesses.
Over the years, his realty portfolio grew to the point that Caputo was a very wealthy man
whose property business generated large annual income for him.
Side Note: To have had the ability to immediately start buying up real estate, points to Caputo having been relatively wealthy by the time he first arrived at Madison.
He mostly concentrated his activities in a section of town called Greenbush.
“The Bush” as locals came to call it, was a heavily Sicilian populated district with the typical little cafes, groceries, pizzerias, and Italian-styled eateries one would expect to find in a “Little Italy.”
In fact, over the years Carlo would be instrumental in helping open and operate a number of popular taverns, restaurants and pizza parlors that became landmarks of sorts for the Greenbush area.
Among the more popular ones he actually operated himself were Carlo’s Italian Ristorante (he aptly named the place after himself), and the Atwood Steakhouse.
In several recent restaurant review articles about popular pizzerias in the Downtown Greenbush area, Pizza Pie Joe Aiello was largely credited with having been the first man to introduce pizza to Madison.
The article related that he opened his first pizza restaurant “Joe’s Pizza Pie” in 1943 to the resounding applause of Madison’s residents.
Side Note: After Carlo’s death his extended family acquired his considerable holdings. And as of 2020 several of his relatives, nephews and cousins, continue to operate several very popular pizzerias and Italian eateries in town.
After the debacle on November 14, 1957 in Upstate Apalachin, New York, where 62 of the most important mafia leaders and their aides were captured by New York State Police, all of Cosa Nostra would come under intense scrutiny in the years that followed. Caputo was no different.
The FBI repeatedly interviewed him, his suspected mob associates, and even his Madison neighbors to try and dig up dirt on the alleged aging mafia leader.
By 1961, Caputo was charged by the federal government with income-tax evasion. He was accused and later convicted by the IRS of earning $31,000 in profits in a year that he only reported $721.56 in income.
He received two years imprisonment but actually served only 30-days in a plea bargain mutually agreed upon that called for him to serve 23 months of probation.
In 1988, former FBI Director William Sessions called Carlo Caputo the mob boss of Madison during U.S. Congressional Hearings on organized crime.
But despite his brief imprisonment and Sessions comments, Caputo continued to serve as a prominent businessman and welcomed member of the community. And he continued to greatly contribute to the development and revitalization of their downtown area.
He was an intensely private man all his life. Both in his public and private life, as well as his underworld career, he shunned the spotlight. And although the FBI probed him for decades little was ever really uncovered about his early life in the mafia or how he ascended to the “boss” seat.
By all accounts Caputo was always friendly but reserved. A gentleman who was known casually by many, but intimately by few!
He passed away quietly at the age of 90 years old on November 6, 1993.
His longtime partner and underboss Joe Aiello died years before him in 1970.
By the time of his death, Caputo had long since been retired from whatever mafia-related activities he may have been engaged in.
Although the “Family” he led had in reality been dormant for at least 20 years earlier, his passing officially closed the door on any Cosa Nostra presence Madison could previously have ever claimed
…Today, they are but a footnote in the documented history of the Mafia’s early development in this country.
Postscript: For an immigrant Sicilian born at the turn of the century who started with nothing, and with very little formal education (he couldn’t even read or write English), Carlo built a virtual little dynasty for himself…a self-made man as it were. A testament to his base intelligence.
Among the reputed inducted mafia members said to have once belonged to the Madison Family were the following. As a suspected but unconfirmed member, Charles Caputa is marked with an asterisk. Birthdates are in quotations.
Carlo Caputo (1903)
Giuseppe Aiello (1901)
Benedetto (Benny) DiSalvo (1878)
Capo di decina
Filippo (Phil) Candela (1891)
Vincenzo (Jimmy) Caruso (1894)
Vincenzo Trioia (1896)
Cosmo DiSalvo (1904)
Charles Caputa (1907) *
Matthew Pelletieri (1914)
John Annacone (1919)
James Schiavo (1923)
Salvatore (Sam) Buscemi (1928)
John Candella (1944)
This article was originally posted “here“