By The Other Guy | September 10, 2020
Just like the early settlers of the 1700s, 1800s and early 1900s of a young North America who migrated west popularizing the iconic phrase “Go West Young Man, Go West”, so too the early European immigrants of Northern and Southern Europe would look to the midwest and the far west coast to travel to and settle down, trying to make new lives for themselves.
Among these early Europeans were large waves of Italians from Italy’s mainland and the island of Sicily that had fled poverty, famine, and the oppressive Kingdom of Italy that largely ignored its people. Most settled comfortably into the Northeast region of the United States.
Some would move on further into our vast territory and settle in Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and other midwestern cities and towns. A much smaller contingent would venture as far as they could possibly go to the west coast, and only stopped when they hit the coastline of the Pacific Ocean.
California would become their home.
What most attracted them to California was that it held many of the same attributes that Southern Italians and Sicilians, those unfortunates of the “Mezzo-Giorno” held dear…warm balmy weather, clear blue skies and clean fresh air reminiscent of their homelands, wide-open territories and landscapes, rich soil very conducive to farming and growing grapes for wine, rich delicious fruits and vegetables such as olives, artichokes and lemons, and a host of other foods and agriculture akin to their traditions.
Over the course of several decades from the 1910s through the 1940s, many sections of this long vertically shaped state and coastline became sprinkled with small Italian colonies that sprung up in Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, and San Francisco.
And although these cities would never come close to having the large Italian populous of its east coast brethren, they nonetheless housed a tightly woven and inter-connected brotherhood of families and “amici” who supported one another.
Founded by Spanish colonists in 1776, the abundant city of San Francisco was named by them to honor “Saint Francis of Assisi” of Italy. The California “Gold Rush” of 1849 greatly helped bring about rapid growth, making it the largest city on the West Coast at the time.
San Francisco quickly became known for its beautiful architecture, landmarks, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, cable cars and trolleys, and the island housing the infamous Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary as well as its famous Fisherman’s Wharf area and Chinatown district.
Situated along the California coastline in the northern part of the state, the city of San Francisco held a great history and a vibrant economy to support its populous and business communities.
Just to the north of its neighbor San Jose, the city of San Francisco, or “Frisco” as it’s popularly called, covers an area of approximately 47 square miles, proudly sitting at the mouth of the San Francisco Bay.
The city itself has a total current population of 900,000 residents as of 2019. The Greater San Francisco Metropolitan area boasts a combined populous of over 4,700,000 people, making it one of the largest populated territories in the entire United States.
As of 2020, San Francisco has the highest salaries, disposable income, and median home prices in the entire world at $1.7 million, as well as the highest median rents. It has a ‘per capita’ personal median income of over $130,000.
The Italian community of San Francisco boasted such famous persons as Domingo Ghirardelli of the mouth watering Ghirardelli Chocolate Company and Amodeo Giannini, who created “The Bank of Italy” from scratch and which today has become the giant “Bank of America.”
He almost singlehandedly rebuilt San Francisco after the devastating earthquake of 1906 by handing out loans (on a simple handshake, I might add) to thousands of people who had been devastated and lost it all. Giannini was pivotal in the city’s rebirth.
And let’s not forget the Di Maggio boys, as in “Joltin Joe” and his brothers. This iconic piece of sports history came to us courtesy of the Frisco Wharf area where the Di Maggio family had first settled, to try and raise their brood.
Yes, the City of San Francisco has a rich well-known public history indeed. What is not quite so well known is its seedy underworld history, and more specifically, the Sicilian Mafia which had formed deep within the bowels of the city by at least the late 1920s era.
The “San Francisco Family of Cosa Nostra” became one of three such organizations or “borgatas”, as they are called by their members, that formed within the State of California.
Along with Jack Dragna and Frank DeSimone of the Family in Los Angeles, and the Joseph Cerrito Family of San Jose, what would later become widely known as the Lanza Family of San Francisco was formulated by early Sicilian mafiosi who migrated up north with the specific goal of creating their own “borgata.”
Founded by Francesco (Frank) Lanza, this mafia Family would always have one of the smaller rank and file membership rosters of any borgata in the country.
This early group saw a measure of violence as other cities did while the various mafiosi and racketeers vied for power within the city until Lanza was able to consolidate the various factions by the mid-1920s.
As in other cities, liquor bootlegging formed the main racket that generated the potential for big money and wealth, as well as the bloodshed that usually came along with it.
During this era, there were several skirmishes between rival Italian gangs that resulted in a string of killings including that of Gerardo Ferri, Alfredo Scariso, Francesco Boca, Mario Filippi, Gennaro Broccoli, and Luigi Malvese over the course of several years.
These gangland slayings eliminated the competition and helped pave the way for Lanza to accede to a “Capo” position over his fledgling group of Sicilians.
It was said that Frank Lanza was the original co-owner and developer of the famed Fisherman’s Wharf area along with his partner, fellow mafioso and underboss Giuseppe Alioto.
With Lanza’s death in 1937, Antonio (Tony) Lima was said to have become the boss of the Family. Lima chose Michele (Mike) Abati as his sotto-capo or number two man.
They were later arrested for the highly publicized murder of West Coast gangster Nick DeJohn.
Those charges would later be dropped for a lack of evidence, but both Lima and Abati would later lose their positions within the borgata.
Lima in 1953 with his grand larceny conviction and subsequent jailing, and Abati who had taken over the crew, lost it in 1961 when the federal government won their deportation case against him and quickly put him on the banana boat headed back to Italy.
Mike Abati died shortly thereafter on September 5, 1962….Next up on deck was the man who would define this borgata and for whom the Family was permanently named, James Lanza.
Side Note: Boss Michele Abati used to list his vocation and business as the manager and one of the principals of the Oro Olive Oil Importing Company, of Oroville, CA. This firm was long suspected by the FBN (Federal Bureau of Narcotics) as a “blind” for the importation of narcotics into the country.
Similar food importation companies set up by various mafiosi throughout the country were also thought to be involved in this racket. Not that they were not “real” food import firms because they were. Only that along with the olive oils, cheeses and cases of tomatoes they brought in, the mafiosi would also occasionally sneak a kilo or two of white powder in along with it.
Mariano Vincenzo Proetto (TN) – aka “James Joseph Lanza” “Jimmy the Hat”. He was born on October 23, 1902 in the little town of Castelbuono in the Province of Palermo, Sicily.
He was the son of Francesco and Caterina Lanza (nee’ Albanese). The true family surname was said to have been Proetto back in Sicilia, but his father later adopted “Lanza” while traversing the American underworld. It was a name that would apply and be used by his son as well.
The Proetto family immigrated to the United States in 1905 and settled in New York City.
By 1919 Frank Lanza had relocated his young family out to San Francisco where they first lived at 945 Jackson Street.
By the 1930s they had relocated to 1020 Francisco Street. The Lanza brood would reside and operate in this city for the rest of their lives.
Early on Jimmy operated under his father’s wing. Jimmy got married in 1929 to the former Josephine Naso, and by 1931 they had their first child, a boy they named Frank C. Lanza Jr. He, Josephine and their children would later buy a home at 603 Virginia Avenue in San Mateo.
With his growing wealth and prominence, in a few year’s time the Lanza family relocated to 559 Washington Street, and by 1958 again to 3682 Fillmore Street, San Francisco.
Ostensibly, he and his brother Anthony operated several legitimate businesses. They listed themselves as wine importers and merchants under the corporate name of Lanza Brothers Wine Company, at 559 Washington Street in San Francisco.
But in actuality, this firm sold more than just wine.
The company, and another run by them, was also a major importer and wholesale supplier of extra virgin olive oil direct from Italy as well as a broker for gourmet Italian-styled cheeses and other specialty food products.
The Lanza brothers also partnered together in real estate speculation and other business ventures. Anthony Lanza was known to be the bookkeeper and to handle the company finances for the brothers.
Lanza’s olive-oil importing and distributing businesses sold its products across the United States.
It was documented by the FBI that many mafiosi who were also in this industry as far away as New York and Cleveland regularly purchased oil from the Lanza brothers.
Another company they once ran during the 1940s called Lucca Olive Oil Company, located in Lindsey, California, was a partnership between the Lanza brothers and Leon DeSimone (a cousin of Los Angeles boss Frank DeSimone, and the brother of Tony Lanza’s wife).
This made for “blood ties” between the Los Angeles and San Francisco Families, and shows the common solidarity between mafiosi.
Another particular industry that seems to have been targeted for infiltration was the commercial laundry and linen-supply business.
This business was well known to be popular with mob guys across the country, so it’s of little surprise that the San Francisco Family also found this industry attractive.
But what is surprising is the level of ownership and dominance by the Frisco crew. Good examples of this were “associate” Daniel Marini who was the president of the Peninsula Linen Exchange Co., which was one of the major laundries in the Bay Area. Marini held controlling interests in several other laundries from Santa Rosa to San Jose.
Another known borgata “associate” was Albert Santucci, who was the owner of Peerless Laundry Company in San Francisco.
Family associate Anthony Perconti was also in a spin-off of the laundry business with his ownership of A-1 Self Service Laundry & Cleaning Company. Collectively the borgata had a solid grip on this industry.
Soldier Joseph Marconi changed it up a bit with his ownership of the Marconi Plastering Company, at 211 Moulton Street. Some other members and associates operated farms and orchards in the California countryside. Most Family figures did indeed operate their own businesses in a variety of fields.
What is amazing to me is that although Jimmy Lanza was knee-deep in the rackets his entire life, was the son of one of the very first “originals” of the American Mafia, and was himself the recognized head of his own Cosa Nostra Family for many decades, Lanza was not known to have ever been arrested. Whether it was at a local or federal level, there is no known police record or “yellow jacket” on Lanza.
Of course, he was assigned an FBI # for investigative and tracking purposes, but he never was known to have taken a “pinch”… I think that is very indicative and telling of the man and his mentality, as well as his modus operandi. No small accomplishment I assure you, especially when compared to his mafia contemporaries around the country.
As the son of the former boss, Jimmy was always an important member but by the 1940s-1950s era, he held the position of underboss after having been appointed to the spot by Mike Abati.
Jimmy Lanza would hold the post as “Representante” of the San Francisco Family from 1961 through 2006, a forty-five year reign atop a Cosa Nostra Family has got to be a singular accomplishment indeed.
Once elevated to “Capo” he appointed as his “Sotto Capo” or number two, a man named Gaspare (Bill) Sciortino, who was himself a veteran mafioso.
Together they oversaw an inducted rank and file of mostly older, low-key members. Soldiers who long ago had lost whatever fangs and teeth they used to have.
Side Note: As I mentioned earlier in the story, when mobster Nick DeJohn got “clipped” out in San Francisco, several close associates of Lanza and members of his borgata were arrested for the murder.
Among the prime suspects was Mike Abati, Sebastiano Nani, Frank Scappatura, Antonio Lima, and Leonard Calamia.
ALL of the above-named mafiosi were also implicated in a major cross-country narcotics trafficking ring headed by Nani and connected with New York’s Profaci Family.
Many were former bootleggers. A few had run the Italian lottery or numbers gambling networks. Some others had been bookmakers or had operated card games. A few were shylocks.
Many had gone “legit” many years back and developed small businesses they ran, largely staying away from the rackets from that time forward.
After the November 1957 national Mafia conference in Upstate Apalachin, New York, the FBI pulled out all stops and started a major campaign of surreptitious investigation against who they dubbed their “Top Hoodlum Program”.
Anyone so designated as indeed a top hoodlum they opened an”anti-racketeering” profile on, in an attempt to gather all the information available in order to either make a criminal case, a tax-evasion case or start a deportation proceedings against.
Lanza fell into this category. Because not much was known about either him, his activities, or members of his “Family”, the federal authorities decided to install an illegal listening device or “bug” within his business office.
This “bug” operated from 1959 through 1965 and provided a wealth of intelligence about the mafia. Not so much about Lanza himself, but the nationwide brotherhood in general. The longtime San Mateo resident soon became a major priority of the San Francisco office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
They documented Jimmy Lanza’s close friendship with the former mayor of San Francisco, Joseph Alioto.
Lanza and members of his borgata also had close ties to several other crime Families in other major cities including the Dragna/Licata Family of Los Angeles, boss Joe Cerrito in San Jose, and Joe Civello who was the boss of another small borgata in Dallas, Texas,
Side Note: A little known fact was that iconic Mayor Joseph Alioto was indeed the son of the former San Francisco Family underboss Giuseppe (Joe) Alioto. The son would rise to become a savvy lawyer, and later a top politician within his California district.
Over the years he was accused several times in his long career of having Mafia affiliation’s, but he successfully deflected those allegations whenever they reared their head.
Jimmy Lanza was very happy with the status quo. He had always kept a very low profile and encouraged his small membership to conduct themselves the same way.
Because of this mindset, it was never Lanza’s priority to consider the continued health and future of his borgata by grooming for induction a younger generation of racketeers to become “mafiosi” in order to carry the Family forward into the future.
He was a wealthy guy and was worried about possible infiltrators, informants, and FBI government cooperators.
This attitude and outlook would help keep Lanza and his members safe, but it was a two-edged sword in that there was no young blood to continue the Frisco borgata. Through death and attrition, slowly but surely the Family just faded away.
Jimmy Lanza would lead a life of peace and quiet, a rare commodity for a Cosa Nostra boss, and enjoy a tremendous wealth and stability for the duration of his life.
Whether it was before, during, or after his tenure as the official Family “Representante” of San Francisco, Lanza lived a much envied existence. So much so, that even in death he was envied.
He passed away from natural causes at the extremely ripe old age of 103 years old on February 14, 2006….Valentines Day as it were… And what a Happy Valentine it was!
As the lyrics to the old Frank Sinatra song title goes “It Was A Very Good Year!”…. for Jimmy Lanza, there were 103 very good years!
Until next time… “The Other Guy”
The following list represents what local law enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigation say was the known inducted membership, as well as their “top associates.”
This chart represents a time period from approximately 1930 through the mid 1990s, a span of over sixty-five years. Although many of these men were active in the local rackets before 1930, technically no Cosa Nostra borgata was established until 1931 by the newly formed New York City based Commission. Likewise, by the mid 1990s there wasn’t enough left of the Lanza Family to even consider it a Cosa Nostra entity, let alone a full-fledged Family.
The names below were all said to have been active at one point or another during this span of time. Keep in mind that at their 1940s-1950s peak, the San Francisco Family reputedly had an average rank and file membership count of approximately 30 to 35 members. Names marked with an ~ next to them were probably “associates” as opposed to formally inducted soldiers. Follow the “key chart” to better understand the hieroglyphics beside some of the names.
Key to the Chart
^ connotes later elevated to hierarchy
~ connotes probably “associate”
+ connotes informer
= connotes transfer from/to another Family
THE JAMES LANZA FAMILY
James Lanza (1961-2000s)
Filippo Maita (1930-1960s)
Vincenzo Infusino (1930-1950 ?) =
Gaspare Sciortino (1950s-1980s)
Giuseppe Alioto (1910-1950s)
Michele Abati (1953-1961)
Antonio Lima Sr. (1937-1953) +
Francesco Lanza (1910-1937)
CAPO DI DECINA
Anthony Romano =
James Franzone =
SOLDIERS / TOP ASSOCIATES
Salvatore Amarena ^~
Gaetano Balistrieri ~
Leonard Calamia =+
Ciro Gallo =
Anthony Lanza ~^
Luciano LaRocca ~
Anthony Lima Jr. ^
Salvatore Lima Sr.
Dominic Lonardo ^=
Nunzio Mannina =
Joseph Paoli ~
Frank Scappatura =
Pasquale Siracusa ~
Salvatore Taranto +
Epifanio Trafficante =
Giuseppe Trifiro =
Frank Velotta ^
Sebastiano Nani =
Salvatore Billeci ~
Vincenzo Bruno ~ =
Concetto Colombo ~
Renaldo Ferreri ~
Emilio Giorgetti ~^
Accursio LaRocca ~
Pasquale LaRocca ~
Salvatore Lima Jr.
Francesco Maita ~
Antonio Perconti ~
Antonio Sciortino ~
Stefano Sorrentino ~
Giacomo Trifiro =
Stefano Meranghi +
This article was originally posted “here“