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A short history of La Cosa Nostra in Madison, WI

By Gangsters Inc's editors

For its early Prohibition history, Madison, like other cities across America, was dominated by bootlegging gangs. Among Madison’s elite were Paul Corona, Joe Giusto, Joe Geloso and Anthony Musso. Madison’s years of Prohibition were like any other large city with a sizable Italian population- many unsolved murders and bombings with shifting powers jockeying for control of that illicit business. The different factions that came out of Regent Street and Milton Street which was in the heart of Madison’s Little Italy known as “The Bush” had all on edge during those years. Giuseppe DiMartino was an early leader of one of these factions before he was gunned down on April 9, 1928.

For the most part, the bootlegging wars died around 1933 with the last unsolved murder which was attributed to that illicit business. Later, FBI informants identified Benedetto DiSalvo as the mafia leader in Madison from the 1930s through the 1950s though most in Madison didn’t know even known this. DiSalvo, who was active in Italian social affairs, also ran a grocery store with his sons. Former associates of the bootlegging gangs were involved in more serious crimes such as armed robberies over the years but none of these could be tied directly to DiSalvo. Gambling was assumedly a large money maker and DiSalvo and his associates seemed to exploit this avenue of business but for the most part many of these men ran legitimate enterprises as far as law enforcement was concerned.

When DiSalvo passed away in February 1964, he had already turned over the reins of the Madison mafia to Carlo Peter Caputo, one of his underlings, in the late 1950s. Caputo had come to the U.S. in 1921 having originally settled in Chicago. Caputo aligned himself with Joseph Aiello, who was an early rival of Al Capone. When Aiello was killed in 1930, Caputo, along with Aiello’s cousin also named Joe Aiello, fled the Windy City with a handful of others and settled in Milwaukee where it was alleged they were “made” into that family. There is no information to suggest that Caputo, Aiello or any other Madison members were present at the 1957 Appalachian mafia summit. It could be assumable that they avoided capture or were represented by someone else, such as Chicago or Milwaukee.

Around 1935 Caputo moved to Madison along with Aiello and with their mob membership it is assumed, joined up with Benedetto DiSalvo’s organization. Sometime in the late 1950s DiSalvo handed over the leadership to Caputo and he in turn made Aiello his second in command. It wasn’t until around 1964 that law enforcement was turned on to a mafia family existing in Madison. Caputo ran a grocery store and Aiello, who was the first to bring pizza to the city via his successful restaurant, was known as “Pizza Pie Joe.”

FBI agents could not tie Caputo or his associates to any crimes, however, they kept a close eye on their activities. Contacts were reported with other LCN families such as Milwaukee and Rockford and it was reported that Caputo did hold at least one initiation ceremony in the early 1960s when James Schiavo was made a member. Bureau investigations also showed from federal informants that Milwaukee mob boss Frank Balistrieri didn’t think much of Caputo and wanted to take over the Madison family but these plans were abandoned perhaps because the Chicago Outfit would not have approved it.

In May 1967 Caputo was indicted on charges of failing to report federal income tax for the years 1960-1962 and a two year prison sentence was handed down, of which only thirty days had to be served. This proved only a minor annoyance for Caputo and he never spent another day in jail. This was all perhaps for naught on the part of the FBI as federal informants continually pointed out that although Caputo was the undisputed boss, he was a boss of a family that was more or less inactive since the 1940s. Interestingly, a May 21, 1973 FBI report detailed a conversation that a Milwaukee informant (made member Augie Maniaci) had with Rockford members Charles Vince, Frank Correnti, Phil Emordeno, Sebastian Gulotta, Joe Maggio and Phil Priola regarding the Madison LCN. Charles Vince, who was Rockford’s capo, told Maniaci that the Madison family had recently disbanded by vote. Two of the members voted to keep the family intact while the rest voted against it. The family did indeed disband and the two who voted in favor ended up joining the Milwaukee family. Maniaci then told his FBI handlers that the dissolution of the Madison family didn’t surprise him because, “they haven’t had anything but bad breath and armpits going for them for more than ten years.”

A February 1974 newspaper article did detail the presence of mafia figures in the area of Madison, however. A cheese factory had expanded to the little town of Leroy, about 35 miles northwest of Madison and some prominent mafia names were attached to it. The company, Grande Cheese had started in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin in 1941 and had been mobbed up since its inception. A 1980 report by the Pennsylvania Crime Commission stated that the company had its beginnings out of a 1939 Chicago gang war known as the “Cheese Wars.” One of those on the side of the winners was future Chicago capo, Ross Prio who was one of the first prominent mobsters linked to Grande Cheese. Fond du Lac resident and close associate of several ranking mob figures, John DiBella, became the owner in the 1950s. DiBella expanded the company and also brought in Joe Bonanno, whose wife owned a share of the business.

When the article was published in 1974, Prio, DiBella and Bonanno held no direct interest in the company. The president and vice president were father and son team, Filippo and John Candella, but no reference to organized crime was made to their names. Filippo had a bootlegging conviction in Ohio in 1943. Federal informants had stated that both father and son were initiated members of the Madison LCN and that Caputo at one time owned a stake in Grande Cheese.

On November 9, 1993 Carlo Caputo passed away at the age of 90 and it was only after his passing that the Capitol Times newspaper in Madison started printing stories about his mafia affiliation. Relatives and business associates all declined to comment on Caputo but one businessman stated that years before, Caputo had threatened to kill him if he did not submit to his wishes.

In the early years of Prohibition, a number of Italian residents of Madison left the city and settled, interestingly enough, in Rockford, Illinois and became affiliated with the early Rockford LCN. Tony Musso came to Rockford around 1926 and became that city’s first mafia boss until his death in 1958. Vincenzo Troia moved to Rockford around the same time and was described as Musso’s lieutenant until he left the city in 1930 and was murdered in 1935 in Newark, New Jersey. Giuseppe Stassi moved to Rockford around 1918 and at some point, most likely in the early 1930s, became a confirmed made member of the family. Peter SanFilippo was a notorious bootlegger in the Madison area and moved to Rockford from there around 1923. His notoriety was such that he was included in the 1930 Wickersham Report on his criminal doings and he was also a suspected early Rockford mob member. Paul Scamardo, another former Madison resident, moved to Rockford in 1918 and was involved with Tony Musso in the 1926 kidnapping of a bootlegger who failed to pay Musso and his faction on a load of liquor. Tony Lomonaco was another of Madison’s “elite” that was a close associate of Tony Musso who followed him to Rockford and was also another suspected early LCN member. Phil Emordeno had moved to Madison around 1925 and racked up numerous gambling, larceny and bootlegging arrests before settling in Rockford in 1941 and later becoming their street gambling boss.

One has to wonder if Madison’s LCN would have been drastically different if these men had stayed in the capitol city and continued their criminal ways there.

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