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La Cosa Nostra

Stefano Magaddino

"Don Stefano"

 

He was the Cataract City's

Kingpin

By Mike Hudson

Of the Niagara Gazette

Niagara Falls- Today it stands,empty and forgotten,at the corner of Niagara Street and Portage Road in what used to be a fashionable section of town.To those who remember,it serves as a monument to a powerful regime now passed. In 1997,it was bought from the city by local entrepreneur H.J. Smith,who speculated its proximity to the proposed Benderson mega-mall would make it worth more then the $15,000 he paid. The Magaddino Memorial Chapel. If only walls could talk.The FBI found $30,000 stashed there when it raided the place Nov.26,1969,one of a series of raids designed to break the back of organized crime in Western New York.To break the back of Stefano Magaddino,that is,proprietor of the funeral home and one of the most powerful crime lords in U.S. history."When I was a kid,they used to joke there was more than one body in some caskets that came out of there,"Falls resident Margie Blazing said. First publicly identified as head of the Buffalo Mafia in a May 1952 Look Magazine article,Magaddino figured prominently in the televised Senate Rackets Committee hearing that featured the testimony of mobster-turned-government-stool-pigeon Joe Valachi. When told Magaddino had been referred to as a "bag of wind" by another witness,Valachi laughed. "He's no bag of wind,Senator,"he said."He is boss since the late 20's. If he was a bag of wind,he would have been out of there a long time ago." Magaddino also was named in the 1966 New York State Commission on Investigation report,which stated he was known in the underworld as "Don Stefano." Magadino is in absolute control of all illegal operations pertaining to organized crime in Western New York and Southern Ontario," the report stated. To many who knew him in Niagara Falls,however,"Steve" or "the Old Man" was a benevolent figure who would buy a round for the house or leave the waitress who served him dinner a tip larger than the check. A heavy-set, bull-necked man with a round face,he was a neat, conservative dresser who shunned flashy clothes and other traditional gangster trappings. "In one way or another,he touched everyone's life," said longtime Falls resident and owner of the Press Box restaurant Flo Acotto. "They never bothered the mediocre people, only the ones who were bothering them." Acotto was a childhood friend of Magaddino's daughter. "They were nice people, the whole family," she said. "I went to school with Steve's daughter, Connie.If you told her one day that was a pretty dress she was wearing, you know what would happen? The next day she'd come to school with the dress in a bag and give it to you. I saw her do it." Terry Kilpatrick, who grew up here when Magaddino was a powerful force,agreed. "It was good when the Old Man was running things," he said. "They took care of things and they didn't go out looking for trouble." But to federal law enforcement officials, Magaddino was a ruthless killer whose criminal empire stretched from Toronto to Cleveland. The 1966 Crime Commission report stated the criminal enterprise centered on gambling,loansharking,drug smuggling and extortion. Such was the Old Man's power that in 1988,nearly 15 years after his death, mob turncoat Angelo Lonardo referred to the Buffalo La Cosa Nostra as "the Magaddino Family" in testimony before a Senate Subcommittee. That was out of respect. Magaddino's 52-year tebture as head of a Mafia family is a record less likely to be broken than Joe DiMaggio's 56-game consecutive hitting streak in professional baseball. Allen May, a Cleveland-based investigative journalist specializing in organized crime, has called Magaddino "the grand old man of the Cosa Nostra." And in 1974, in his front page Niagara Gazette obituary, Magaddino was described as "the man who ran everything in Niagara Falls but the cascades."

Coming to America

Stefano Magaddino was born Oct.10,1891,in Castellammare, a picturesque Sicilian village near Palermo known primarily in this country for the disproportionate number of organized crime figures it produced. Along with his brothers, Pietro and Antonio, Magaddino became involved in the clannish, underground world of the Sicilian Mafia. A fued between the Magaddino's and another set of brothers, the Buccellatos, resulted in Pietro's murder in 1920. Stefano and Antonio left Sicily for New York City, where the trouble continued. On Aug. 16,1921, Stefano Magaddino was arrested in connection with the shooting death of a Buccellato man in Avon,N.J. The warrant claimed Magaddino "acted in concert with other persons" in the killing, but the charges later were dropped for lack of evidence. Leter that summer, Magaddino and an associate, Gaspar Milazzo, were ambushed as they walked out of a Brooklyn store. The two men decided to leave New York, Milazzo's heading to Detroit and Magaddino to Buffalo. Each man would become the head of organized crime in their adopted hometowns, although Milazzo's Detroit reign was cut short by that city's notorious Purple Gang. He died in a hail of bullets in 1930. Newspaper obituaries state Magaddino worked briefly for a produce company in Buffalo after his arrival there, but he soon moved to Niagara Falls, where he was able to establish his own businesses. These legitimate enterprises, eventually including the funeral home, the Power City Distributing Co., the Camellia Linen Supply Co. and the Pandoro Exterminator's, served as a front for Magaddino's real business, which was smuggling liquor in from Canada. It was the height or Prohibition, and opportunities to make money were unlimited. Back in New York, a war broke out between the city's two most powerful Mafia chieftains, Salatore Maranzano and Joe "The Boss" Masseria. Fought over territory and power, the conflict was known as the "Castellammarese War," after the Sicilian hometown of both Maranzano and Magaddino. Magaddino and other young mobsters like Charles "Luckey" Luciano saw the war as an opportunity. Although he reportedly backed the efforts of his cousin, Joe Bonnano, on behalf of Masseria, it is unlikely Magaddino shed any tears on April 15,1931, when Massaria was whacked while enjoying dinner at a Coney Island restaurant. Six months later, Maranzano was shot and stabbed in his Park Avenue office. With the old bosses out of the way, the stage was set for Magaddino and others of his generation to take control.

The Commission

Tired of the bad publicity and police attention generated by the Castellammarese War, the country's most powerfull and influential gangsters-- including Magaddino, his cousin Joe Bonnanno of New York, Vito Genovese, Joe Profaci, Thomas Luchese and Carlo Gambino, also of New York, and Frank Nitti of Chicago established the Commission, the ruling body of La Cosa Nostra in the United States. Its existence was a closely guarded secret until Joe Valachi, began testifying before Senate subcommittees and talking to writers in the late and early 1960's. According to Valachi, the purpose of the organization was to prevent feuds by establishing territories for the various crime families, which at the hieght of their power numbered 26 across the country. No "made," or initiated, member of the Cosa Nostra was allowed to kill another without permission, and disputes were to be settled in the boardroom rather than on the street. The Commission met formally once every five years to re-elect the heads of the families. Magaddino's second-in-command was John Montana of Buffalo. In addition to owning the largest fleet of taxicabs in Western New York, Montana was twice elected to the Buffalo City Council and was once named "Man of the Year" by the National Junior Chamber of Commerce. The men were partners in the Empire State Brewery in Olean, and their relationship was further strengthened when Magaddino's son Peter married Montana's daughter Frances. There were some problems. According to Ray Porrello, auther of "The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia," an Ohio gang came to Niagara Falls shortly before the end of Prohibition in an attempt to muscle in on Magaddino's bootlegging business. One of them went home in a box; the rest left voluntarily. On May 19,1936, a bomb intended for Magaddino exploded at the house of his sister and brother-in-law at 1651 Whitney Ave. The sister Arcangela Longo, was killed and her three young daughters injured in the blast. "My mother dragged ne over to see it," Acotto said. "Everybody in town went to see." Newspaper accounts at the time theorized that Magaddino, who lived next door at 1653 Whitney, was the bomber's intended target. There had been an ongoing feud between rival gambling factions in Niagara Falls and those in Buffalo, and police sources stated the bombing likely arose out of the fighting. "Falls police are not reticent in admitting they are are looking for reprisals, but said today they are in the dark as to where the reprisals would break out or in what element," a front-page Gazette article reported. They apparently didn't have to wait long. Later that summer, when a Buffalo hood named Frank Lotempio was found shot to death, Magaddino was suspected but never charged, according to his obituary. But for most of the 1940's and 1950's, Niagara Falls enjoyed a pease and properity it hadn't known before and workers earned good money at Hooker Chemical, Carborundum and Bell Aerospace. To most people, a little gambling seemed harmless. "People like to gamble, so what?" Kilpatrick said. "They didn't bother a soul." The Magaddino family, including Stefano, his brother Antonio, son Peter and cousin Peter, were respected as successful businessmen in the communty. Acotto, who opened her restaurant down Niagara Street from the funeral home in 1958, remembers the family well. "Pete the Bull, he was Steve's cousin, used to come in when we first opened. Back then, you had to show you sold so much food before you could get your (liquor) licence, and he'd have lunch and then throw 10, 20, 30 dollars and say,'Ring it up, get your licence.'" But for Stefano Magaddino, the bucolic times were about to come to an end.

Apalachin and afterward

According to Valachi, it was Magaddino's idea to hold the 1957 Commission meeting at a cabin owned by Pennsylvania Mafia chieftain Joseph Barbara in Apalachin,N.Y. Usually they met in Chicago or New York City. It was a bad idea. Local state troopers, suspicious of the fancy cars and out-of-state licence plates, raided the place. A total of 58 mobsters were arrested, including Magaddino's brother Antonio and close associates John Montana, Joe "The Wolf" DiCarlo and Rosario Carlisi. Magaddino's driver's licence and other personal effects were found at the scene, leading lawmen to believe he escaped into the woods and avoided the dragnet. For law enforcement, Apalachin provided the first glimpse into the Cosa Nostra. For the gangsters it was an unmitigated disaster. Many blamed Magaddino personally. In 1958, the Gazette reported that someone threw a hand grenade through the kitchen window of Magaddino's house on Dana Drive in Lewiston. Interestingly, the explosive had been removed from the device before it was thrown. Some writers speculate the incident was the result of the bad feelings associated with Apalachin, but this was never confirmed. Security around Dana Drive was tight, according to former Niagara Falls City Councilman Bruce Battaglia. "My father-in-law wanted to buy a house up on The Circle in Lewiston," he said "The real estate agent asked how he was financing it." He was an old Polish guy, saved his money, and he said he'd be paying cash. The real estate guy said he'd have to check with the Old Man to see if it would be all right. Apparently, it was, because he called my father-in-law a couple of days later and they closed the deal." Magaddino was questioned by the authorities in the murder of Albert Agueci. Along with his brother, Vito, Albert Agueci was involved in smuggling heroin into the United States from Montreal. Born and raised in Sicily, the brothers had Magaddino's blessings and paid him a per centage of their drug profits, according to testimony given to a Senate subcommittee by Vito Agueci. On Jult 20,1961, the brothers were picked up on narcotics charges in New York City. Magaddino reneged oh his promise to provide support, and Albert Agueci's wife was forced to mortgage their house for bail. Agueci started making noises about getting even and, on Nov. 23, 1961, his mutilated body was found on a farm outside Rochester. His jaw had been shattered and half his teeth knocked out. An estimated 30 pounds of flesh had been cut from his bones before the killers strangled him with a clothesline. The body was then soaked with gasoline and set on fire. Vito Agueci became a government witness, but his testimony was never enough to put Magaddino behind bars. In New York City, it was the time of the "Banana War" involving Magaddino's cousin, Joe Bonanno. Related by blood, the two had grown distant. Bonanno's interests in Montreal were getting dangerously close to Toronto, Magaddino's territory. On Oct. 21, 1964, Bonanno was walking down Park Avenue when he was abducted by two men who forced him into a car. Federal authorities investigagting the case questioned Magaddino's brother, Antonio, and son Peter, in connection with the kidnapping but no charges were filed. Bonanno was released unharmed and "retired" to Arizona, where he lives today.

Federal sting

On Tuesday, Nov. 26, 1968, Stefano Magaddino was driving in the 2800 block of Ferry Avenue when federal agents pulled him over and arrested him. He was 77 years old and suffering from heart trouble. The Feds also raided Magaddino's Lewiston home, Peter Magaddino's home at 1103 22nd St. and the funeral home, ultimately arresting nine men on federal charges of conspiracy and violation of the Interstate Transportation in Aid of Racketeering Act. In addition to Stefano and Peter Magaddino, Benjamin Nicoletti Sr., Sam Puglese, Gino Monaco, Pasquale "Patsy" Passero, Augustine Rizzo, Louis C. Tavano, Michael Farella and Benjamin "Sonny" Nicoletti Jr. were picked up. All except the Old Man were taken to Buffalo and locked up in lieu of bail ranging from $7,500 to $100,000. Because if his health, Stefano Magaddino was confined to house arrest at his home, under 24-hour watch by a team of four marshals. Newspaper reporters quickly dubbed the jailed men the "Niagara Falls Nine" and covered the story eagerly. In a suitcase under Peter Magaddino's bed, police found more then $500,000. Another $30,000 was stashed at the funeral home. His wife, Frances, was quoted in a Time magazine article about the raids. "He said that we didn't even have enough money to go to Florida," she said. A sawed-off shotgun, an automatic pistol, a revolver, a police scanner and bags of wrapped coins also were seized. FBI Special Agebt Neil Welch told reporters that Peter Magaddino and Benjamin Nicoletti Sr. were arested shortly after completing a meeting at the Round the Clock restaurant on Main Street. The two met every Tuesday night at different locations around the city to discuss the week's gambling take, Welch said. But the euphoria initially felt by the lawmen was short-lived. Federal charges against Magaddino and the Niagara Nine later were dropped by U.S. District Court Judge John O. Henderson because law enforcement agencies refused to name an informant and wiretaps used in gathering evidence had been illegal. Local attorney Patrick Berrigan crossed paths with Magaddino in the early 1970's while working for the Reynolds law firm. One of the firm's clients was Life Magazine. "They had been sued for libel in California for a story they'd done linking the mayor of San Francisco to the mob and they asked us to get a deposition from Stefano," he said. "The last thing he wanted to do was to give a deposition about inner workings of the Mafia and he kept checking in and out of the hospital to avoid us. We had private detectives following him, he went bowling every night at 3a.m., but before we could get to him the case was resolved." Stefano Magaddino died of a heart attack on July 19, 1974, at the age of 82 in St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston. His death was front page news in Western New York and made headlines around the country. "When Papa Magaddino died, I went to his funeral," Kilpatrick said. "People said, "There's going to be FBI there,' but I didn't care. He was a good man and I paid my respects." Following the Old Man's death, federal law enforcement officials say various factions fought for control of the empire he'd built. In Ontario, Johnny "Pops" Papalia reportedly ran the Canadian end of the operation until his murder in 1997. On this side of the river, a power struggle was taking place even before Magaddino's death. John Cammilleri, described by government informant Ron Fino as a corrupt offical of Laborer's Local 210 in Buffalo, died in a hail of bullets in May 1974 while crossing the street on his way to the wake of another hood. The FBI reported that the death sparked a wave of 15 mob-related murders that lasted into the mid-1980's. According to Fino's testimony before a Senate subcommittee investigating the ties between in Labor's International Union of North America, Joseph "Lead Pipe Joe" Todaro took control of the former Magaddino family in 1974. The day when Stefano Magaddino was the "boss of bosses" in Western New York was over, but the man himself was to become the target of yet another federal investigation. And this wasn't for anything as mundane as bookmaking. In 1979, the House Assassinations Committee convened to take a new look into the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. FBI wiretap information revealed Magaddino to be one of the Cosa Nostra leaders who talked about the need to kill JFK prior to the assassination. In conversation recorded in October 1963, Magaddino became angry when another mobster remarked that President Kennedy "should drop dead." "They should kill the whole family, the mother and father too," he yelled. "When he talks, he talks like a mad dog." "The comment is followed by many obscenities by Stefano Magaddino," the FBI report states. In a second wiretap, four days after the assassination, two gangsters are heard laughing and congratulating each other about the president's death. Magaddino cautioned the men "not to joke openly about the president's murder" "You can be sure that the police spies will be watching carefully to see what we think and say about this," he said. In the end, the closest the committee got to pinning the century's most famous homicide on the Old Man was to report that "the(Cosa Nostra) Commission was not involved, but the committee could not preclude the involvement" of individual members of organized crime. Once again, the Feds never laid a glove on Stefano Magaddino.

Feds say mob presence remains in Niagara Falls

By Ron Churchill-Niagara Gazette

NIAGARA FALLS--The late Stefano Magaddino was called the "irrefutable lord paramount" of the organized crime in Niagara Falls,Buffalo and Toronto in testimony before the U.S. Senate in the early 1960's. But today, law enforcement agencies seem to disagree on the extent of organized crime's presence here. "We still believe that traditional organized crime exists here in Western New York and merits our attention," FBI Spokesman Paul Moskal said from his Buffalo office. "We have an investigative interest in traditional organized crime, La Cosa Nostra, in Western New York and Niagara Falls." Moskal said it's one of the FBI's investigative priorities. Six agents currently are stationed in Niagara Falls. "Who knows what they're up to," Niagara Falls Police Superintendent Ernest Palmer said. "We've been working some drug cases with them." Palmer's view of the Mafia is quite different than that of federal authorities. "As far as we know... there's no (organized crime) decision-making going on in Niagara Falls area," Palmer said. "We don't believe Niagara Falls is the hub of organized crime activity as it once was." The city's police intelligence unit, once dedicated to organized crime, has evolved into the narcotics intelligence unit, Palmer said. Palmer and Niagara County District Attorney Matthew Murphy III said the heyday of traditional Mafia activity in the area has passed. "I don't see a whole lot of evidence... that there's an existing Mafia organization in Niagara County," Murphy said. "I'm aware of the history." "If you're talking about people grouping together, then yes, there's organized crime," said Inspector James Wesolowski, who oversees investigative units at the Niagara County Sheriff's Department. "I don't think it's to the level of the Mafia of old." "The old philosophy still exists," Wesolowski added. "I would be foolish to say that it doesn't." At the hieght of traditional organized crime in the 1950's and 1960's,"You knew who the players were," he said. "Now, it's not open and obvious. Times have changed." But federal law enforcement officials are convinced La Cosa Nostra activities remain. "We still, along with the FBI, state police and local law enforcement agencies, continue to investigate traditional organized crime activities," said Denise O'Donnell, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York State. "Certainly, some of the older members of organized crime have passed on or relocated... (but) we still have a number of active investigations into illegal activities in Niagara, Erie and Monroe counties." O'Donnell said investigations are centered on illegal gambling, loansharking and extortion. Investigators also concentrate on racketeering related to local unions.