The Nation: THE MAFIA Big, Bad and Booming

  • Share
  • Read Later

(8 of 12)

that hook. We tossed water on him to give the prod a better charge, and he's screamin' ..."

Despite the bloodletting in Chicago, the Outfit has been rapidly expanding its Western operations. Although freelance Mafiosi and other big-time criminals have operated in California since the heyday of Bugsy Siegel in the 1940s, the only important criminal clan was Jack Dragna's family in Los Angeles. When Dragna's nephew Louis turned down a chance to become boss in 1974 —he was promptly dubbed "the Reluctant Prince"—the Outfit and New York's Gambino clan made an extraordinary agreement to exploit the West together. Frank Bompensiero, consigliere (chief adviser) of the fading Dragna family, outlined the arrangement to the FBI before he was executed.

The Chicago and New York gangsters gave the task of enforcing the West Coast realignment to an intimidating trio of very mean thugs: Chicagoan Tony Spilotro, Brooklyn-born Mike Rizzitello and San Francisco's James Fratianno. "Animals," an FBI agent calls them. "Those guys are dangerous enough when the Mob keeps them in check. But when their keepers unsnap the leash, a lot of people are going to get hurt."

Fratianno, 62, is believed by police to have made up to 16 hits as the Mob's West Coast executioner. When the Gambino and Chicago mobsters decided in 1975 to move into the West, they tapped Fratianno as their point man. With their blessing, he recruited Rizzitello, now 50, a handsome stickup artist who migrated to Los Angeles in the early 1960s because he wanted an easy racket and the respect that he had never got from the hoodlums back home. Both were a long time coming, but now he is rising quickly in influence and power. Says a West Coast lawman: "Rizzitello sounds like he is the boss and running things."

Rizzitello helped the Mafia take over 80% of the $100 million-a-year Los Angeles pornography business. His approach is not sophisticated. In January, for example, he extracted $20,000 from a porno film company simply by proclaiming: "Los Angeles is our town. You can't operate here unless we're in." He has ranged north to San Francisco, working with Teamsters on shakedowns of employers. But Rizzitello may soon be taken off the streets for up to three years. He is scheduled to be sentenced May 23 for a penny-ante crime—fraudulently collecting $21,780 on a false insurance claim that his business-supply firm had been burglarized.

Spilotro, 38, learned his trade at the knee of Felix Alderisio, lord high executioner of the Chicago Mob in the 1950s and 1960s. Spilotro has been tried for killing an informer with an ice pick (he was acquitted) and suspected by the FBI of eliminating Mafia foes with bombs and bullets. He went to Las Vegas about five years ago and by 1975 was overseeing the Outfit's operations in the city. Stocky and short (5 ft. 4 in.), he came on as a swaggering, street-wise punk. Introduced to a federal agent one day at the Las Vegas airport, Spilotro looked him coldly in the eye, stuck out his forefinger and moved his thumb up and down like the hammer of a gun.

Nevada authorities are investigating Spilotro for his alleged involvement in skimming* millions from the slot machines of the Stardust casino. FBI agents meanwhile are investigating Detroit gangsters who, working through fronts,

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  12. 12