10 October 2017

Stefano Magaddino - mafioso

Longest-ruling Mafia boss in US history

Stefano Magaddino ran the Buffalo crime  family for more than half a century
Stefano Magaddino ran the Buffalo crime
family for more than half a century
Stefano Magaddino, the Sicilian mafioso who went on to enjoy the longest period of power enjoyed by any crime boss in the history of the American Mafia, was born on this day in 1891 in Castellammare del Golfo.

Known as ‘The Undertaker’ or ‘Don Stefano’, Magaddino controlled a crime empire radiating outwards from Buffalo, on the shores of Lake Erie in New York State.  Geographically, it was a vast area, stretching from the eastern fringe of  New York State to its western outposts in Ohio and extending north-east almost as far as Montreal in Canada, its tentacles reaching across the Canadian border from Buffalo even into Toronto.

One of the original members of The Commission, the committee of seven crime bosses set up in 1931 to control Mafia activity across the whole of the United States, Magaddino was head of the Buffalo Family for more than half a century.

He died in 1974 at the age of 82, having survived all the other Commission members, including the founder Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano and Chicago boss Al Capone, with the exception of his cousin from Castellammare, Joseph Bonanno, who along with Luciano, headed one of the Five Families of the New York underworld.

Magaddino never knew any life other than crime.  The third of eight children born to Giovanni and Giuseppa Ciaravino Magaddino, he was born in the midst of a feud between his family and their rivals in Castellammare, the Buccellato family.

He had strong links with the Bonanno family in Sicily, joining forces with Joe’s father, Salvatore, in 1899 after the latter’s brothers, Stefano and Giuseppe, were killed on an order given by Felice Buccellato.

New York boss Charles 'Lucky' Luciano included Magaddino in The Commission
New York boss Charles 'Lucky' Luciano
included Magaddino in The Commission
Bonanno and Magaddino took their revenge by ordering the killing of two members from the Buccellato family. A peace was brokered in 1905, before Salvatore Bonanno emigrated to the United States, to be followed, in 1909, by Magaddino. They settled in a Castellammarese colony in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

The feud followed Magaddino to New York, however, leading to the killing of his brother by Camillo Caiozzo, a member of the Buccellato clan, in an ambush outside a Brooklyn department store. Caiozzo was himself soon killed and in 1921 Magaddino was arrested in Avon, New Jersey on suspicion of his murder.

At the time Magaddino was an influential member of the increasingly powerful Castellammarese clan but when charges against him failed to stick he took the opportunity to relocate to the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area.

There he laid down the beginnings of his empire.  Behind the front of running a funeral home – the Magaddino Memorial Chapel – in Niagara Falls, he set up a profitable Prohibition era business bootlegging wines and spirits across the Niagara River to supply the proliferation of so-called speakeasies in Buffalo.

After Prohibition was ended, Magaddino and his associates moved into loan sharking, illegal gambling, narcotics, extortion, carjacking and labour racketeering, gaining control too of lucrative legitimate businesses such as taxi companies and the laundry and linen services essential to the area’s many hotels.

In the traditional manner of Sicilian Mafiosi, he gave the impression of living a relatively modest lifestyle, doing his utmost to stay in the background and draw as little attention as possible to his criminal activities.

Joseph Bonanno, with whom  Magaddino shared his roots
Joseph Bonanno, with whom
Magaddino shared his roots
He was admired by other gang bosses for the success he had in controlling such a large area, while the remoteness of his territory enabled him to remain untouched by the periodic squabbles between the New York families. He was at times called on to an arbitrate in disputes.

He survived a number of attempts on his life.  In 1936, his sister was killed by a bomb intended for him but placed in the wrong house and in 1957 a grenade was thrown through his kitchen window but failed to explode.  The second of those episodes was linked to the so-called Apalachin Conference, a meeting of Mafia bosses at a small town in New York State.

The meeting had been arranged by Magaddino and when it was raided by FBI agents, resulting in the arrest of several mobsters, there were suspicions that he had tipped them off himself as a way of eliminating a few of his rivals.

Later, the respect he enjoyed among his peers diminished when he and his son, Peter, were hauled in by police on charges of illegal bookmaking after a 1968 raid on his son’s home in Niagara Falls, which found around $500,000 in a suitcase.

This aroused more disquiet among senior figures in the Buffalo Family, suspecting him of skimming off profits, and rival groups began to emerge.  Within a year, Magaddino had been ousted as boss, replaced first by Salvatore Pieri and ultimately by Samuel Frangiamore, who had been joint leaders of a breakaway faction.

Magaddino managed to avoid significant spells in jail throughout his rule.  The illegal bookmaking charges, based on a six-year long wire-tapping operation at the funeral home in Niagara, were dropped after a judge ruled the evidence had been obtained illegally.

He was named in Rome in 1967 as the head of a narcotics smuggling ring that had trafficked about $150 million worth of heroin between Europe and the United States between 1950 and 1960 but was never extradited.  He died in 1974 following a heart attack. 

Castellammare del Golfo enjoys a fine location on the coast of northwest Sicily
Castellammare del Golfo enjoys a fine location on the
coast of northwest Sicily
Travel tip:

Castellammare del Golfo is a resort and fishing town situated on a large bay in the northwest corner of Sicily, midway between Trapani and Palermo.  It has an attractive setting, guarding over a broad sweep of water and with steep lanes of houses climbing the hillside from the harbour towards the elevated Piazza Petrolo.  A popular backdrop for TV dramas, including some episodes of the Inspector Montalbano series, it has the remains of a castle probably built at the time of the ninth-century Arab occupation of the town, and a good selection of bars and restaurants.

The Basilica of Maria SS Annunziata
The Basilica of Maria SS Annunziata
Travel tip:

Trapani is a city of some 70,000 inhabitants on a coastal plain around 100km (62 miles) west of Palermo, at the very western tip of the island. Renowned for its seafood, it has a nearby airport but is not well known among overseas tourists, yet offers an attractive base for visitors, with the impressive Basilica-Sanctuary of Maria Santissima Annunziata and a 14th-century cathedral among its attractions. The city is also famous for the Easter Processione dei Misteri di Trapani, a day-long celebration of the Passion.

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