From Cleveland Magazine, August 1978
Frank Osowski hunched his shoulders and shivered in the cold.
Dawn was beginning to lighten the gray skies of Cleveland this December morning, which meant Osowski would soon be off duty. He had been patrolling since 11 the previous night, and was anxious to get home to his wife and daughter.
The first few snowflakes of the 1928 winter were beginning to fall as the young policeman turned the corner of East 12th and Euclid Avenue and noticed two large, dusty touring cars pulled up in front of the Statler Hotel. Eleven men alighted from the cars, all expensively dressed, four carrying brand-new luggage. But that was not what intrigued Osowski. It was the iron set of the men's faces that made him stop and watch, even in the bitter cold.
He followed the men inside and watched them register. After they were taken to expensive seventh-floor suites, Osowski talked to the desk clerk, and found that the men had asked for rooms close to ten other men who had registered at the hotel within the past two days.
Osowski copied the names of the steely-eyed visitors and their friends and before going off duty that morning, turned them in to the detective bureau.
Police Lieutenant Kurt Gloeckner, arriving at work a short time later, could hardly believe the memo he found on his desk. It listed some of the most notorious bootleggers in the country, and said they were all registered at the Statler Hotel.
Within the hour, Gloeckner, accompanied by 74 armed detectives and policemen, descended on the Statler, barring all the exits and then arresting the men in their rooms.
While obviously surprised and annoyed by the arrests, none of the men offered police the least bit of resistance. Some, in fact, acted like their arrest was no more than a transfer to another place of lodging. They packed their bags and then paid their bills as they were being escorted by policemen out the front door.
In making the arrests, police confiscated 13 revolvers and noted that all the men were attired in silk underwear and fine linen. Some wore spats and large diamond rings. Their appearance led one arresting officer to comment, "They looked more like prosperous sales representatives of some large business concern than thugs."
In fact, the police had not arrested just any common thugs. What they had unknowingly done was break up the first Mafia Grand Council meeting ever held in the United States. As soon as word of the arrests got out, organized crime figures who had checked into other hotels downtown quickly packed their bags and left town. In Chicago and New York, still others who had not yet begun the trip to Cleveland cancelled their plans.
In all, some 50 heads of organized crime activities from the eastern and midwest United States were to have met in Cleveland in 1928. Because the Cleveland police moved so quickly to make arrests, the meeting was never held, and local law enforcement officials never understood exactly what it was they were breaking up. It was only years later--- after similar meetings had been held in Chicago, Atlantic City, and Apalachin, New York--- that the real reason men like Joe Profaci, Mike Russo and John Mirbella came to Cleveland during the height of the Prohibition era was understood.
In the end, their arrests proved fruitless. Aside from Salvatore Lombardino, who was wanted for murder in New Jersey, the police had no charges on which to hold the men. And no one was surprised when Joseph Porello--- the king of Cleveland bootleggers in 1928--- came to the station the evening after the arrests, with about 30 friends and neighbors from the East 110th-Woodland Avenue area, to post the $20,000 bail for each of the prisoners. After all, four of the arrested men had personally visited Porello at his home earlier in the week.
The entire incident was typical of the frustration Cleveland police suffered when trying to deal with organized crime during Prohibition. Hampered by corruption at City Hall and within its own ranks--- as well as a public highly tolerant of bootlegging activities--- the department could rarely do more than harass the likes of the Porellos and Profacis.
Lawless as it was, the era of bootlegging and Prohibition became one of the most colorful in the history of organized crime in Cleveland. That history, which began with the waves of immigrants settling here in the early part of the century, and to which a new chapter continues to be added almost monthly, is a compelling and fascinating account of a struggle for survival in a city that, for a time, rivaled even New York and Chicago in violent criminal activities and warfare.
It was with the flood of European immigrants into this country in the early 1900s that the character of cities like Cleveland began to take on a distinct shape. Tens of thousands of newcomers were quietly building small new communities in the neighborhoods of the city, trying to preserve as much of their cultural heritage as possible while eking out a living in the new world.
Some took up the trades they had plied in their native land; others learned new skills, or performed the most menial labor to get by. All had one thing in common--- the need to survive, and even more, succeed, in America.
It was against this background that the newspaper circulation wars--- the first chapter in the history of organized crime in Cleveland--- took place. During the second decade of the century, Dan Hanna's two newspapers--- the Leader (morning) and the News (afternoon)--- were locked in a life-and-death struggle for a majority of the city's readership with the Plain Dealer and the Press.
To help the News in its circulation battle, Hanna brought a veteran of a similar war in Chicago to town--- Arthur B. (Mickey) McBride. At the remarkably young age of 27, McBride had already demonstrated a fine ability to beat competitors on street corners.
To counter that move, the Plain Dealer put a West Side Irishman at the helm of its circulation department, Thomas Jefferson McGinty. A former boxer, McGinty was not a man to cross if one wanted to stay healthy.
Both men turned crews of hefty truck drivers and scrappy newsboys loose on Cleveland's streets with orders to beat the opposition at all costs. Soon beatings, truck hijackings and even shootings became an accepted part of the struggle for circulation dominance.
The war on the streets was never won outright by either side. By buying out the Leader in 1917, the Plain Dealer effectively ended the competition for morning readers. (The News-Press rivalry continued in less spectacular fashion until 1960, when the News finally folded.)
But the circulation war had been good training--- not only for McBride and McGinty, but for their employes as well. Some of the teenagers who sold newspapers on the street corners would later become prominent organized crime figures in the city--- men like Alfred (Big Al) Polizzi and the Angersola brothers, John and Fred.
The adoption of the Prohibition Amendment in 1919 set the stage not only for the bloodiest and most glamorous chapter in the history of organized crime in Cleveland, but helped lay the groundwork for what was to become a national network of organized crime.
Here, as throughout most of the country, Prohibition enjoyed almost no popular support--- particularly among European immigrants who for years had not only drunk beer and wine with their meals, but had made most of it themselves. So the demand for liquor never appreciably decreased, despite the new law.
The existence of that kind of market, of course, meant that people with proper connections and the daring to test the law (and survive) could become private distributors, and turn a healthy profit in the process. In major cities like Cleveland, New York and Chicago, bootlegging (making liquor) and rumrunning (importing liquor) quickly became big business during the '20s.
But because the business was so lucrative, and because it operated outside the confines of the law, those who controlled it had to be prepared to defend their territorial rights--- as often as not, with their very lives.
The first in what was to become a spectacular series of "bootleg murders" in Cleveland took place early on the morning of November 13, 1924, in the backyard of bootlegger Louis Rosen, who lived at 1056 East 97th Street.
The previous evening, Rosen and his brother-in-law, Adolph Adelson (who was visiting from Philadelphia), had left their wives at Rosen's home and gone for a drive. The two women were already in bed when they heard the men pull in the driveway at 12:30. Seconds later, the sounds of six gunshots shattered the crisp night air.
The horrified women ran to the backyard, where they found signs of a fierce struggle and their two dead husbands. Adelson lay on the ground with two steel-jacketed .32 bullets in his body, one in the neck, and another in the head; beside him lay Rosen, bleeding profusely from a two-inch shotgun wound in the middle of his chest.
Cleveland's bootleg kings gave the public another demonstration of the methods they used to protect their interests in 1927, when they eliminated an out-of-town nuisance as casually as most men might brush a fly from their sleeve.
The nuisance came to town in early October in the form of Ernest Yorkell and Jack Brownstein, two small-time hustlers who hoped to make money shaking down local bootleggers. Yorkell, a vaudeville strong man who was tattooed all over his muscular body, had persuaded his friend Brownstein, a Philadelphia salesman, to join him in a venture selling "protection" to Cleveland's bootleg barons.
The pair visited a number of bootleggers their first few days here and were ready to make their initial cash pickup on the night of Friday, October 7. Before they did, they made dates with two waitresses for later in the evening while eating at an East Side restaurant, bragging to them that they would return after picking up $2,000 from a bootlegger on Hough Avenue.
The two men never kept the dates. Their bodies were found the next morning in a ditch in Ambler Park, near East Boulevard. Their hands and feet were bound, and their heads had been blown to bloody shreds by what seemed to be short-range shotgun blasts. In a typical show of audacity, Yorkell's little black book listing the names and addresses of all known bootleggers in Cleveland had been left in his pocket for the police to find.
The book meant nothing. Cleveland police already knew who the town's biggest bootlegger was. By virtue of his lock on the corn sugar trade (a vital ingredient in the liquor-making process), Joseph Lonardo controlled most local bootlegging operations.
A Sicilian immigrant, Big Joe (he weighed over 300 pounds) was an imposing figure in more ways than one. Once a fruit merchant on Woodland Avenue, Big Joe had a small empire in the city by 1927, with offices on East Ninth Street, numerous garages filled with sacks of corn sugar, and countless customers living on every sidestreet off Woodland Avenue. Even after Big Joe used his newfound wealth to buy a $75,000 home on Larchmere Road in Shaker Heights, he remained a powerful and respected man in the city's immigrant community.
Big Joe's reign as the sugar baron of Cleveland was brought to an abrupt, unexpected halt just one week after the Yorkell-Brownstein murders. He and his brother John were ambushed and shot in the barbershop of Ottavio Porello at 10902 Woodland Avenue.
The Porello brothers--- there were seven--- were also in the bootlegging business, and their desire to wrest the corn sugar trade monopoly from the Lonardos was no secret. When the Lonardos' bodyguards were arrested as suspects in the Yorkell-Brownstein murders, the Porellos decided to take advantage of their absence, and invited Big Joe and John to the barbershop to discuss business on Thursday afternoon, October 13.
The two brothers arrived at the barbershop about 3:30 and went directly to the back room, where they found Angelo Porello awaiting them. Barely seconds after they stepped into the room, the air was suddenly filled with gunfire. John immediately slumped to the floor dead, with three bullets in his body. Big Joe was shot seven times, but somehow pursued his slayer to the street--- leaving a bloody trail behind him in the barber shop--- before falling over dead.
Angelo told police he had been shaking hands with Big Joe when two gunmen appeared in the doorway of the room and began shooting. He claimed to have escaped injury by diving under a table.
A police investigation quickly showed that the Lonardos' killers had to have been in the room before the two brothers arrived, and that the bullets could not have been fired from the doorway. But Angelo stuck to his story, and police could find no witnesses to contradict him (this despite the fact that the killers fled in full view of hundreds of people on the street). The murders went unsolved, and the Porellos were the new sugar barons of Cleveland.
Their reign went undisturbed for almost two years, until the murder of "Black Sam" Trodaro.
A trusted lieutenant of Big Joe Lonardo, Trodaro had been fingered by police in their investigation of Big Joe and John's murders as the double-crosser in the Lonardo family who had helped set his bosses up for the barbershop ambush.
Trodaro had often bragged about taking over the Lonardos' business since then--- which was a fatal mistake. He had not reckoned with Big Joe's wife, Concietta, her 21-year-old son, Angelo ("Big Ange"), and their thirst for vengeance.
So he suspected nothing that June day in 1929 when he was standing on the corner of East 110th and Woodland--- across the street from the Porello barbershop--- and Big Ange pulled up in a car with his mother and cousin, Dominic Suspirato. When Concietta called Trodaro to the car window, he smilingly obliged.
The smile vanished from his face seconds later as five bullets ripped through his body. The Lonardos' car sped away, leaving Trodaro crumpled in a lifeless mass on the street.
Once again, police had trouble finding anyone who would admit to having seen the murder. But Tordaro had been talking to two people--- Angelo "Little Ange" Sciria, another nephew of Big Joe Lonardo, and a friend named Tony Volpe--- when he was called to the car. And if they had not actually seen him shot, they had seen him walk to the car, and they had seen who was in it.
Police felt that would be enough for a conviction, and. they arrested Concietta Lonardo the day after the murder. By that time, Big Ange and Suspirato had left town.
Mrs. Lonardo was tried for the Trodaro murder later that summer, but a jury failed to convict her.
Early the following year, Big Ange Lonardo and Dominic Suspirato returned to Cleveland and were promptly arrested, tried and convicted of the murder of Black Sam Trodaro. That was a heartening--- if short-lived--- victory for local law enforcement officials; it marked the first time they had won a conviction in a bootleg murder. (The following year, Lonardo and Suspirato's convictions would be overturned in a retrial, and both would be set free; 47 years later, Big Ange would have similar luck in the courtroom when tried as a co-conspirator in the murder of Danny Greene.)
With all the Lonardos now either dead or out of action, the Porellos' position seemed totally secure. So the murder of Joseph Porello on July 5, 1930 came as a complete surprise.
Joe, the brains behind the Porello brothers' business, was drinking with his most trusted aide, Sam Tilocca, in a saloon that afternoon at Mayfield Road and East 126th--- the heart of the area that was once the dominion of Big Joe Lonardo.
It was about 2:30 when two gunmen suddenly burst through the front door of the bar and emptied their guns into Porello and Tilocca. Shot three times in the head, Joe never had a chance to draw his gun; he fell to the floor with a lit cigarette still dangling from his lips. Tilocca was shot six times, but somehow managed to stumble out of the saloon to the door of his new car before dying.
Police arrested the owner of the saloon, Frank Milano, in connection with the shootings. A known bootlegger and ally of the Lonardos, Milano had--- up to this time--- been a background figure in the sugar wars. Police were somewhat surprised, then, to find a garage filled with a large cache of imported whiskey, beer, slot machines, and a small arsenal of guns and rifles behind the saloon. ("I use them to hunt rabbits," Milano said when asked about the weapons.)
Because the police actually had nothing on Milano, they were forced to let him go. Three weeks later, on an otherwise quiet Saturday morning, another Porello was gunned down.
James Porello was standing in front of a meat counter in the Italian American Cash and Carry grocery store on the corner of East 110th and Woodland when a 1929 Ford touring car, with the passenger curtains drawn closed, pulled up in front of the store. Suddenly two shotguns were thrust out the car windows, and a hail of gunfire shattered the store windows and James Porello's body.
The final blow to the Porello dynasty was dealt in February 1932, when two more Porello brothers, Ray and Rosario, were gunned down while playing cards in a cigar store at 11103 Woodland--- just several doors down from the barbershop where Big Joe and John Lonardo had been ambushed three years earlier, and across the street from where Black Sam Trodaro, Joe Porello, Sam Tilocca and James Porello had suffered similar fates.
Arrested as suspects in the final Porello murders were Frank Milano, Big Ange Lonardo and Dominic Suspirato; none of the three was convicted.
Not all of Cleveland's Prohibition era criminals conducted their business with the same flair as the families on Mayfield and Woodland Roads. Others went about their business quietly, allowing colorful figures like the Lonardos and Porellos to dominate newspaper headlines while they stayed safely in the background, amassing huge illegal fortunes.
Foremost among these were four men who later became known as the Cleveland Syndicate. The names of Moe Dalitz, Morris Kleinman, Sam Tucker and Louis Rothkopf would surface only occasionally in organized crime investigations during the '20s, '30s and '40s. Yet these men would become rich, far wealthier than most in the history of organized crime in Cleveland, by building a staggering empire that began with a rumrunning operation on Lake Erie and ultimately grew to include resort hotels in Florida and plush gambling casinos in Las Vegas.
Moe Dalitz, also known as Davis, came to Cleveland from Detroit, via Akron. An associate of the original Purple Gang, he built a successful laundry business in Detroit before relocating to Akron, where he first met Tucker, Kleinman and Rothkopf. (Dalitz eventually grew so powerful that Dixie Davis, the lawyer for New York racketeer Dutch Schultz, told a friend in 1939, "Moey Davis became the power in Cleveland, and anyone who questioned it would have to deal with Lucky [Luciano] and Meyer [Lansky] and the Bug [Bugsy Siegel].")
Louis (Uncle Louis) Rothkopf was born in Cleveland, and by the late '20s was overseeing the construction of illegal distilleries in the city. Rothkopf made a point of traveling to other cities to become acquainted with "businessmen" like himself; among the men he could count as friends was New York racketeer Frank Costello.
Morris Kleinman was also a Cleveland native. He took over his father's poultry business at an early age, but reportedly became bored with it and turned to boxing (even winning the city lightweight championship at one point). He dabbled in bookmaking and brewery operations as well before joining the Syndicate.
Sam (Sambo) Tucker emigrated to Cleveland with his family from Russia when he was 15. Perhaps because of his early upbringing, he always carried himself with a calm, quiet, "old world" bearing. He eventually became known as the "gentleman" of the Syndicate; whenever the group was moving into a new territory, it was usually Tucker, with his smooth, persuasive manner, who acted as the front man.
When the four men met and decided to combine forces (sometime during the early '20s), they had a perfect combination of resources to pool: street sense, connections, and legitimate "front" operations. By 1926, they had a small fleet of boats on Lake Erie, bringing liquor to Cleveland from Canada. As their business became more and more profitable, the size of the fleet grew--- as did the amount of cargo.
During the last seven years of Prohibition, federal agents and Cleveland police patrolled the Lake Erie shoreline from Rocky River to Mentor in a vain attempt to choke off the Canadian whiskey supply being brought in by what they called the "Big Jewish Navy." Occasionally their efforts would net them a catch of an unregistered boat, filled with as much as 1,500 cases of blended whiskey. But their successes were too few and far between to make any appreciable dent in the Syndicate's business.
With the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, the end of Prohibition was clearly in sight--- which meant an end to the profitable operations that the Syndicate and the Milanos and Lonardos (the latter by now known as the "Mayfield Road Mob") had put together. Like all good businessmen, the bootleg kings--- both on Mayfield Road and further up the hill, in Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights--- foresaw the change in the market and began to plan for it early.
By this time, the men who dominated organized crime in Cleveland had formed a loose alliance; each allowed the others to operate freely, as long as there was no interference in territories already claimed.
They did, however, have a working agreement with Tommy McGinty, who had left the Plain Dealer at the start of Prohibition to set up a small rum running operation on the West Side (before the Syndicate was even formed). Active particularly in the early days of Prohibition, McGinty imported liquor from across the lake and served it in his saloon on West 25th Street.
McGinty had also gone into the promotion business, staging a variety of events--- boxing matches, bicycle races, almost anything that would draw betting crowds--- all across Ohio. He had a special love for horse racing, and operated race tracks in Maple Heights, Brooklyn, Chagrin Falls and Bainbridge for years before racetrack betting was legalized in Ohio in 1933. McGinty stayed one step ahead of the law by taking only "contributions"--- not bets--- on his horses, and returning only "dividends"--- not winnings--- if they placed.
On Mayfield Road, Frank Milano had become official head of the mob. The senior survivor of the sugar wars, Milano was reportedly given a seat on the National Commission of the Mafia at a meeting of the country's ruling families in Chicago in 1931. (Of the seven seats on the board, five went to heads of New York families like Lucky Luciano and Joe Profaci, one was given to Cleveland, and the remaining seat was given to Chicago and Al Capone.)
Along with his brothers, Anthony and Pete, Frank was expanding his operations as well. They were now running Mayfield Import Company, an Italian food store on Mayfield Road, and the Brotherhood Loan Company, a savings and loan for "friends," as legitimate business fronts.
And under the guiding hand of Milano, new faces were gaining prominence on Mayfield Road.
Foremost among them was Big Al Polizzi. A Sicilian immigrant who had matured in the heat of the sugar wars, Big Al, a handsome, well-built man, handled business for the Milanos in a quiet, efficient manner. It was Polizzi, in fact, whom Frank Milano would name as his successor when he left Cleveland in 1934.
Other sugar war veterans had become part of the Milano fold as well. Big Ange Lonardo would never wield the awesome power that his father did, but would remain a key figure on Mayfield Road for many years to come. So would his cousin, Little Ange Sciria. John Angersola and his brothers Fred and George would also help run mob operations until they fled to Florida in 1939.
There were other lieutenants as well, some whose names would become known to those outside of organized crime circles only 10 or 20 years later: Alex (Shonder) Birns, Frank Brancato, James (Jack White) Licavoli, John DeMarco, John Scalish.
One member of the Mayfield Road Mob proved especially helpful when the time came to forge alliances with the Syndicate. Albert (Chuck) Polizzi, the man who had grown up alongside Big Al Polizzi--- and was regarded as his brother--- was adopted as a junior partner in the Syndicate sometime in 1933. He proved to be an ideal link between the Jewish and Italian arms of organized crime.
That was because Chuck Polizzi was not a Polizzi at all, but a Russian Jew whose parents had died while he was very young; Chuck had been adopted by the Polizzi family. He and Big Al were raised together and began their careers in organized crime together with the Mayfield Road Mob.
The first official cooperative venture between Cleveland's organized crime overlords is said to have been the formation of Buckeye Enterprises in 1932. Included as partners in Buckeye--- an umbrella company that would eventually serve as a front for vending and slot machines and gambling casinos--- were Syndicate members Dalitz, Tucker and Rothkopf (Kleinman was under indictment at the time), Mayfield Road Mob members Chuck and Big Al Polizzi and John Angersola, and, representing Tommy McGinty's interests, Martin O'Boyle.
There would be more cooperative efforts in the years to come, but the formation of Buckeye Enterprises was especially significant. It marked the end of an era of warfare, and proposed contracts and gentlemen's agreements as a better way of conducting business in the future. It was also the first step in establishing local organized crime as an institution (a transition being made both here and across the country), a type of business that would make its profits by anticipating the next illegal demand in the public market and being prepared to meet that demand when it emerged.
As Prohibition ended, and America fell into the dark days of the Depression, the money and power of organized crime was poised to expand into a new market that people like Dalitz, Milano and McGinty had accurately foreseen--- gambling.
Dalitz, Rothkopf, Kleinman and Tucker invested their prohibition earnings in gambling casinos, which reaped dividends beyond their wildest hopes. At first, they ran only small clubs in the city. But those were forced out of business when Harold Burton, the reform mayor, was elected in 1935.
In response, the Syndicate simply moved its operations outside the city borders and beyond, into neighboring counties, where it settled into the casino business on a serious, long-term basis.
Once outside Cleveland, the gambling casinos were legally beyond the reach of Burton and the city police. They became the responsibility of mayors and sheriffs in other municipalities. But the men who ran the casinos for the Syndicate always made sure that local officials were well paid to ignore the nightly activities at the clubs.
For the better part of the '30s and '40s, "suckers" from all over Ohio dropped untold thousands of dollars on gambling tables at the Harvard Club in Newburgh Heights, the Thomas Club in Maple Heights, and the Pettibone and Arrow Clubs in Geauga County--- and were only occasionally harassed by agents of the law.
The most famous gambling casino in this area was the Mounds Club, which operated for nearly 17 years on Chardon Road in Lake County. Its proprietor was Tommy McGinty.
Like all McGinty operations, the Mounds Club had class. It offered superb dining, gambling and first-rate entertainment in a plush setting. McGinty's clientele was usually drawn from Cleveland's wealthiest suburbs; in fact, during the late '30s it became quite chic among the social elite to drop a few hundred dollars in an evening at "Tommy's."
Once the casino business began to show substantial profits (in a good year, a club could show gross receipts totaling $500,000), the Syndicate made a natural move--- it expanded. In the late '30s, the Arrowhead Club near Cincinnati, and just across the Ohio River, in Kentucky, the Beverly Hills Club, Hi-De-Ho Club, and Lookout House were opened. The same pattern that had worked so well in Cleveland was repeated: Well-paid lieutenants ran the clubs, bribed public officials made sure they were never raided, and the Syndicate--- far removed from the actual operations of the clubs--- watched the profits continue to grow.
Back on the streets of Cleveland, another type of gambling was flourishing, and the Mayfield Road Mob decided it need look no further than the numbers racket in its own backyard for a new source of income.
Virtually unheard of in Cleveland before being brought here by Southern blacks in the mid-'20s, numbers (actually a generic term for two different games, "policy" and "clearing house") had reached big business proportions by the time Prohibition ended.
Both games were played daily. At policy houses, numbered balls were drawn out of a bag several times each day, and winning combinations could pay off in odds as high as 400 to 1; winning clearing house numbers were taken from daily stock exchange figures in the newspaper, and paid off in even higher odds. Any amount, from a penny on up, could be bet in the games; and so many people played them by the mid-'30s that estimates of the yearly take in the numbers racket in Cleveland ranged from $5 to $10 million.
The Mob's takeover of the numbers was overseen by Big Al Polizzi, who had been handed control of Mayfield Road by Frank Milano in 1934. Federal tax agents were starting to close in on Milano, so he left the country for good, fleeing to Mexico and building a ranch there. (The Milano ranch would later provide refuge for a number of organized crime figures who needed to get out of the country.)
The mechanics of the numbers takeover was left to Big Ange Lonardo and Little Ange Sciria, who wasted no time in intimidating the blacks. They began their takeover of the policy games by sending a group of thugs to the houses at the time drawings were being held. The "muscle" men would break up the gathering, confiscate the numbers equipment, and inform the house proprietor that if he wanted to get his equipment back he should stop by and "see Angelo" in the morning.
Big Ange's demands varied, but he usually offered the operators a trade: the return of their equipment and a guarantee against further harassment in exchange for a flat 40 per cent of every day's take.
Lonardo and Sciria soon realized that the hundreds of small operators would fall into line more easily if the top numbers kingpins were under Mob control. That was when, in a style reminiscent of the sugar wars during the '20s, the Mob descended on Rufus "The Emperor" Jones, John B. "Hot Stuff" Johnson, Willie Richardson, and the Hoge brothers, Frank and Willie (the latter two the only high-level white numbers operators in the city).
Richardson was the first to be taught a lesson. He was standing in the middle of a crowd of people on the corner of East 40th and Central Avenue one day when, according to one newspaper account:
"Two autos swerved to the curb, several men jumped out, grabbed Willie, and tried to toss him into one of the autos. Willie, in a frenzy of fear, tore himself loose, struck one of his captors--- and then bullets began to fly. Willie fell to the sidewalk, feigning death. The cars sped away. When the police arrived, Willie was so frightened and mad that he forgot himself and talked. He put the finger on Charles Coletto."
Before Coletto could be tried, however, another attempt was made on Richardson's life--- this time as he and his bodyguard were riding in a car on East 39th. A car pulled alongside them with two shotgun barrels protruding from the window and unleashed a hail of fire into Richardson's car. The shots tore off the right arm of the bodyguard, but Richardson again escaped unharmed.
Two warnings were enough. At the Coletto trial, Richardson denied ever having fingered him--- even when threatened with a ten-year prison term for perjury. By the time Richardson got back on the streets, it was reportedly as a $55-a-week stooge for the Mob.
"Emperor" Jones enjoyed flaunting his wealth. From a man who was literally penniless at one time, Jones rose through the numbers rackets to become the owner of three houses in the city and a five-acre home of his own in Bedford (which sported a $3,000) bathroom), as well as a racetrack regular who made bets only with crisp $100 bills.
In the end, that may have been what saved his life. Federal tax agents noticed Jones' sudden wealth before the mob could get to him, and put him away on a $25,000 tax evasion charge. After a four-year stint at Lewisburg, Jones returned to Cleveland to join his friend Willie Richardson on the streets as another flunky for the Mob.
"Hot Stuff" Johnson was more stubborn than his colleagues--- but much luckier. After refusing to cut the Mob in on any of his earnings, he was ambushed outside his home one night by a car full of gunmen. He was shot 16 times but, incredibly, did not die. When he got out of the hospital, it was only to join the ranks of men like Richardson and Jones. A reporter asked him once after he got out whether he had gone back into the rackets; Johnson winked, smiled, and said, "I'm quittin', because of this here Depression."
The Hoge brothers wisely took note of what had happened to their friends and invited the Mob to share their profits. As a reward for their generosity, Frank Hoge was allowed to remain proprietor at his lucrative policy house, the Old Kentucky.
The Mob had a stranglehold on the numbers rackets--- running no games itself, but continuing to collect 40 per cent of the profits--- until April 1939, when a Cuyahoga County Grand Jury returned indictments against 23 men that Safety Director Eliot Ness and County Prosecutor Frank Cullitan had identified as the numbers kingpins. The indictment list read like a "who's who" of Mayfield Road: George and John Angersola, Big Ange Lonardo, Chuck Polizzi, Dominic Suspirato, John DeMarco, Shondor Birns and Little Ange Sciria were all on it.
But Ness los his chance to put the Mob behind bars when Lieutenant Ernest Molnar--- a trusted aide and head of the city-wide police vice unit--- warned them of the indictments before police could make arrests.
The men who could have been convicted--- the Angersola brothers, Sciria, and Chuck Polizzi--- escaped to Florida on a 40-foot yacht. (Sciria did not stop in Florida; he sailed on to Frank Milano's farm in Mexico.)
Molnar had, in fact, known the men who ran the numbers operations for years, and had allowed them to operate unmolested in return for regular payoffs to him. In 1949 he was convicted of bribery and sentenced to serve 66 years in state prison. Ironically, he was patroled [sic] just four years later.
The fugitives' escape also brought another interesting fact to light. The boat they fled in, the Wood Duck, belonged to Mickey McBride.
McBride had worked at The Plain Dealer until 1930, during which time he became friends with most of the city's top organized crime figures--- most notably the Angersolas, Frank and Anthony Milano, and his old rival, Tommy McGinty.
After leaving the newspaper, McBride went into the taxicab business, and operated it--- with some help from his friends--- quite successfully. By 1940, he owned a taxicab monopoly in Cleveland that would not be broken for another 38 years.
McBride was not directly involved in any criminal activity (although it was his money that kept Continental Press, the wire service that fed race results to bookies all over the country, alive during the '40s). McBride was an associate of--- and money source for--- many of Cleveland's organized crime figures, even after they had left the city. At the same time, he became a respected citizen in the community by building a professional football team here, the Cleveland Browns.
McBride was a perfect example of what most of Cleveland's organized crime kings decided they wanted to be by 1940. They had made their fortunes in bootlegging and gambling during the past two decades, but now began to shift their investments and put their money in legitimate businesses--- a move that, they hoped, would not only free them of police harassment and the constant threat of imprisonment, but also earn them the public respect they had never been able to win as criminals.
Big Al Polizzi, for example, tired of Cleveland and the reputation he had established here, moved to Florida in 1944, where there was plenty of legitimate money to be made in hotels and the construction business. He left the Mob affairs in Cleveland in the hands of John Scalish, who, while every bit as powerful as Polizzi, was also interested in respectability, and never tried to rebuild the empire the Mob had once controlled.
Some Mob figures would never gain the respect they craved--- Polizzi, for example, was never allowed to join the Riviera County Club in Coral Gables, Florida (a city the Mob had built almost single-handedly), because of his criminal record.
And the sins of the Prohibition and gambling eras would return dramatically to haunt Polizzi and his associates again in 1951, when Senator Estes Kefauver held a series of special hearings on organized crime in various cities--- including Cleveland--- throughout the country.
The Kefauver hearings marked the first time that a true picture of the activities of organized crime in Cleveland during the '20s, '30s and '40s was drawn. It was only after the Kefauver staff's investigations, and the testimony of men like Polizzi, Tommy McGinty, Mickey McBride, Anthony Milano and James (Jack White) Licavoli, were made public that the true extent of organized crime operations in Cleveland--- and its ties to national organized crime--- became known.
But while the Kefauver Committee's revelations may have been startling, they were also anticlimactic. By 1951, most of the people identified as Cleveland's criminal overlords had either left the city or moved into legitimate business concerns, or both.
Moe Dalitz was served with a subpoena to appear before the Committee while it was in Cleveland, but chose not to honor it until one of Kefauver's final hearings, in Los Angeles. Not that it mattered; by 1951, he could point to a number of legitimate businesses--- Dalitz Realty, Colonial Laundry, and Detroit Steel in Detroit, Pioneer Linen in Cleveland--- as sources for his $100,000-a-year income.
Nor was there anything illegal about the investments he had made with some friends--- Morris Kleinman, Lou Rothkopf, Sam Tucker and Tommy McGinty--- in the Desert Inn and other gambling casinos in Las Vegas.
Outside of some personal friendships, Dalitz had few ties left to Cleveland. He still owned a home here, but spent most of his time in Las Vegas. And his partners had also moved to greener pastures. Tucker and Kleinman were living in Florida; Rothkopf spent most of the year as his Chagrin Falls farm, but usually went to Florida for the winter.
Tommy McGinty and Mickey McBride still lived in Shaker Heights, but spent much of their time out of the city on "business."
In short, the remnants of the Mob and the Syndicate still in Cleveland in the early '50s were no longer interested in controlling the city's rackets--- whatever they may have been. The big money was in other places now, and for people like Rothkopf and McGinty, it was enough to live quietly off the legal and illegal sources of income they had established during the past 30 years.
And the younger men who had taken over what was left moved into new areas, like labor racketeering and narcotics traffic--- where good money could be made without the headlines and fanfare that had accompanied most organized crime activity in the past.
In fact, it would be nearly 20 years after a Kefauver Committee lawyer asked Jack White how many times he had been arrested ("I don't know; maybe 10, 20; maybe more") before he and the Mob would again capture the imagination of the Cleveland populace with their amateurish efforts to kill an irritating Irishman named Danny Greene.
Get ahead of the weekend by signing up for our free weekly “In the CLE” newsletter — your guide to fun throughout The Land. Arriving in your inbox every Wednesday, this weekend to-do list fills you in on everything from concerts to museum exhibits — and more. Click here to subscribe.