Link between Mafia, Castro drew scrutiny to 2 New Kensington racketeers in JFK investigation
The six men thought no one was watching as they loaded burlap bags onto a twin-engine Beechcraft at a West Deer airstrip in November 1958.
As the plane took off, troopers hiding nearby moved in to arrest the men. And when the aircraft landed in Morgantown, W.Va., it was seized.
There were 317 weapons inside the burlap bags — from 50-caliber machine guns to M-1 carbines — that had been stolen from an Ohio National Guard Armory and were destined for Fidel Castro's campaign to control Cuba.
Two decades later, the incident drew the attention of congressional investigators seeking a link between the Mafia, Castro and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“La Cosa Nostra had a strong motive for taking drastic action,” the House Select Committee on Assassinations reported in 1979. “Yet it is extremely unlikely that it would have considered such a major and dangerous act as assassinating the president … but the evidence does not preclude the possibility individual members may have been involved.”
Two New Kensington racketeers drew scrutiny during the investigation because of their ties to the smuggled weapons and Cuba, documents show.
Gabriel “Kelly” Mannarino and his brother Sam — part of Pittsburgh's John LaRocca crime family — were tied to Castro and Cuba's legendary casinos, according to declassified FBI reports.
One of the gun smugglers, Victor Carlucci, was Sam Mannarino's son-in-law.
Another, Daniel “Speedo” Hanna, worked in a Mannarino gambling den in New Kensington.
A third, Norman Rothman, managed the Sans Souci, a Havana casino in which the Mannarinos, Tampa mob boss Santo Trafficante and Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista shared an interest.
When Batista muscled the Mannarinos and Trafficante out of the Sans Souci, the Mannarinos tried to regain control by betting on Castro to restore ownership once he came to power.
Things did not work out that way.
On New Year's Day 1959, Batista fled Cuba. Rebels ransacked the casinos, and Castro closed them permanently.
More trouble came later when Kennedy ordered a mob crackdown and FBI agents planted a microphone in the Mannarinos' private office.
The wiretaps produced little, but the brothers were indicted for tax evasion in 1963. Kelly Mannarino was acquitted. Sam was convicted and served 366 days in a federal prison. He died in 1967. Kelly Mannarino died in 1980.
Richard Gazarik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6292 or [email protected].