‘Burgh’s mob ties may sleep with the fishes
Michael J. Genovese’s burial in a Penn Hills cemetery Friday might as well have served as a funeral for Italian organized crime in Pittsburgh, federal investigators say.
The once-powerful crime syndicate has been dormant for a decade, and now its 20-year “Boss” is dead. Some members and associates are around, but no one knows who might succeed Genovese as leader of Pittsburgh’s crumbled La Cosa Nostra empire.
“It’s an end of an era,” said IRS agent Ed Reiser Jr., the last of the active federal agents who brought down the Pittsburgh mob. “As far as the La Cosa Nostra family, I don’t know if there’s anything left here of any significance.”
Old age, drug dealing and dogged investigations decimated the Pittsburgh mob, investigators say. Genovese’s death Tuesday closes a storied history more than 80 years in the making.
It reminds the hunters of the one who got away.
“A lot of people got a lot of time, and people like Genovese were lucky not to get caught,” said Bob Garrity, retired FBI special agent who once headed the organized crime squad in Pittsburgh. “I feel bad we didn’t get him and that we didn’t put him away. I hope there’s a God and that God already took care of him.”
A bloody history
Pittsburgh’s La Cosa Nostra clan, dating to the 1920s, was one of 24 original U.S. mob “families.” Its history often was marked by violence.
Stefano Monastero, the first boss of the Pittsburgh family, was murdered in 1929. He was succeeded by Guiseppe “Joseph” Siragusa, who became known as the “Yeast Baron” of Allegheny County for supplying bootleggers the necessary ingredient for beer-making. He was shot and killed in 1931 inside his Squirrel Hill home, in what was “believed to be part of a nationwide ‘purge’ of the old-line mafiosi,” according to a report by the defunct Pennsylvania Crime Commission.
John Bazzano Sr. was next in the line of succession, but his reign lasted only a year. New York mobsters armed with ice picks stabbed him more than 20 times inside a Brooklyn restaurant and stuffed him in a burlap sack as punishment for improperly authorizing a hit.
Vincenzo Capizzi replaced Bazzano and ran the Pittsburgh family until he stepped down in 1937, allowing Frank Amato Sr. to take over.
The Pittsburgh mob expanded its territory throughout Allegheny County and beyond under Amato. Kidney disease forced Amato to resign in 1956 and brought the family under the control of Sebastian John LaRocca, until his death in 1984.
The Sicilian-born LaRocca kept a low profile but was respected by underworld members nationwide. He was “a man of respect,” the crime commission said, and held fast to “traditional ‘mafia values’ of obeying orders, keeping secrets, and effective use of violence.”
Genovese controlled the numbers racket in East Liberty under LaRocca and eventually served as a capo.
In 1957, LaRocca, Genovese and Gabriel “Kelly” Mannarino represented Pittsburgh at the infamous national meeting of mob bosses in Apalachin, N.Y.
When LaRocca’s health deteriorated in the late 1970s, he ceded much of his power to Genovese, Mannarino and Joseph Pecora. Many people believed Mannarino was intended to take over the Pittsburgh mob. But when LaRocca died in 1984 at age 83, Mannarino was dead and Pecora was in jail.
That left the 71-year-old Genovese as heir to the Pittsburgh Family throne.
Like his mentor, Genovese kept a low profile and adhered to Mafia values.
He ran a criminal empire from behind the scenes, and often over meals at the Holiday House restaurant in Monroeville, a favorite mob hangout, or from a Verona used car dealership where he worked, the crime commission said.
The commission described Genovese as “a quiet-yet-autocratic leader, who expanded the family’s influence and enlarged its criminal portfolio.”
The Pittsburgh mob had stagnated under LaRocca, but Genovese built it into Pennsylvania’s strongest family.
“Pittsburgh was pretty substantial,” said Ken McCabe, a retired FBI special agent who once headed the Pittsburgh office. “It had influence from here to the Youngstown, Cleveland and Buffalo areas.”
Under Genovese, the Pittsburgh mob became a major drug trafficker and the region’s principal loanshark while continuing to control gambling and other illegal markets.
But while Genovese helped reinvigorate a waning organization, the direction the mob chose — particularly in trafficking narcotics — proved to be its downfall, federal agents said. Gambling and other traditional mob rackets usually brought a few years in prison; drug convictions brought much more. These convictions primarily fell on younger members or associates, destroying the mob’s line of ascension.
“A lot of these younger guys who could have been up and coming got picked off one by one,” said Reiser, of the IRS.
Until the federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force was created in 1982, federal law enforcement agencies largely worked alone and without consulting one another. The new task force brought them together. It marked the beginning of the end for the Genovese crime family, Reiser said.
“It was just a flow for about six or seven years where one investigation led to another,” Reiser said.
East Liberty drug dealer Eugene “Nick the Blade” Gesuale was the first major catch. He was convicted in the mid-1980s for running an extensive narcotics operation. Now 63, he isn’t projected to be released from federal prison until 2013.
Next, federal agents flipped drug dealers Marvin Droznek and Joseph “Joey” Rosa, whose father was Frank J. Rosa, a former capo, and whose grandfather was Joseph Sica, a one-time consigliere in the LaRocca/Genovese Family.
Information provided by Droznek, Joey Rosa and other investigations led to the largest organized crime prosecution in Western Pennsylvania’s history.
In March 1990, a Pittsburgh grand jury indicted Charles “Chucky” Porter and Louis F. Raucci Sr., along with seven associates, on charges including drug distribution, extortion, conspiracy to commit murder, robbery, gambling and racketeering. Porter was considered to be Genovese’s “right-hand man,” while Raucci was said to “sit on the left side” of the boss, according to the crime commision report.
Both men were convicted. Raucci died in prison in 1996. Porter, 72, of Penn Hills, was released in 2000 after his 28-year sentence was halved for helping the FBI investigate mob operations from New York and New Jersey, to Florida and California, including narcotics operations in Pittsburgh.
A mob of one
Much of the information used to convict Porter and Raucci came from wiretaps hidden inside L.A. Motors, the Verona car dealership where Genovese worked as a salesman. While “everyday” conversations were held inside, Genovese took people outside individually to discuss mob business, Reiser said. The FBI eventually placed a microphone in a tree where the men often stood and talked, but agents never obtained enough information to charge Genovese with mob-related crimes.
“We narrowly missed him,” said Garrity, the former FBI agent. “He just escaped the web when we got everybody else.”
Still, by taking down mobsters directly beneath Genovese, Reiser said government agents effectively destroyed the criminal empire run by a man fond of staying in the shadows.
“He showed up to the Holiday House one morning and nobody else showed up to meet him,” Reiser joked.