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Cleveland crime family

Cleveland crime family
Founded byJoseph "Big Joe" Lonardo
Founding locationCleveland, Ohio, United States
Years active1900s-present
TerritoryGreater Cleveland and all Ohio, Southern Florida, and Las Vegas
Ethnicity"Made members" are Italian and Sicilian Americans and the associates can be both Sicilian and Italian, but many associates can be of different races and cultural backgrounds
Membership75 made members
Criminal activitiesRacketeering, murder, car bombing, drug trafficking, skimming, labor racketeering, extortion, illegal gambling, construction, garbage collection, loansharking, bookmaking, bribery, assault
AlliesChicago Outfit
Detroit Partnership
Genovese crime family
Gambino crime family
Philadelphia crime family
Pittsburgh crime family
Los Angeles crime family
New Orleans crime family
Kansas City crime family
Rivalsvarious gangs over Cleveland, including their allies

The Cleveland crime family or Cleveland Mafia is the collective name given to a succession of organized crime gangs based in Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States. A part of the Italian-American Mafia (or Cosa Nostra) movement, it operates in the Greater Cleveland area. Founded about 1920, leadership turned over frequently due to a series of power grabs and assassinations. Stability emerged in 1930 after Frank Milano became boss. The organization underwent significant decline in the last years of boss John T. Scalish. After his death in 1976, Irish mobster Danny Greene attempted to take over the Cleveland crime family. A violent gang war broke out which drew significant law enforcement attention. Significantly reduced in membership and influence, the Cleveland crime family nearly ceased to exist in the 1990s after a number of high-ranking members were imprisoned. The organization is believed by law enforcement to be extremely small in the 21st century, although attempting to rebuild.


Early organized crime in Cleveland

Semi-organized Sicilian American- and Italian American-run "Black Hand" extortion rackets first emerged in Cleveland about 1900. The Cleveland Division of Police soon established an "Italian squad" (also known as the "Black Hand squad") to deal with the problem. After a series of Black Hand-related murders in the city in 1906, this police unit largely suppressed this first expression of organized crime in Cleveland.[1][a]

Loosely organized gangs emerged in the 1910s. An Italian American gang known as the Mayfield Road Mob formed in Cleveland's Little Italy neighborhood about 1913.[3] At roughly the same time, another Italian American gang, the Collinwood Crew, formed in the Collinwood neighborhood. This gang centered its activities around the intersection of St. Clair Avenue, E. 152d Street, and Ivanhoe Road.[4] Out of a drug store in Cleveland's Big Italy neighborhood,[5][b] notary public Angelo Serra ran the "Serra Gang". It was primarily an automobile theft ring which relied on Serra to forge titles to the cars and create fake vehicle registration plates. At one point in the mid-1910s, it did $500,000 ($11,500,000 in 2018 dollars) a year in vehicle thefts. The gang also engaged in other crimes such as extortion, illegal gambling, the numbers racket, and robbery.[9] In the late 1910s, the "Benigno Gang" formed under Dominic Benigno in Little Italy. The gang specialized in payroll robberies, and in 1919 and 1920 monopolized payroll robberies by intimidating or murdering anyone who tried to pull off a heist without Benigno's permission.[10][11][c] A less organized and more fluid criminal organization was the "reservoir gang", a group of criminals engaged in armed robbery, automobile theft, burglary, and other property crimes which met at Cleveland's Baldwin Water Treatment Plant reservoir in order to plan crimes, exchange stolen goods, and disperse profits from crime.[12]

Prohibition began in Ohio on May 27, 1919,[13] and nationally throughout the United States on January 16, 1920.[14] Many small, organized gangs emerged between 1919 and 1921 to circumvent the liquor law by importing liquor from Canada, diverting alcohol from legitimate purposes (such as medicine and industry), and distilling and distributing home-brewed beer and liquor.[15] Small bootlegging operations were run by formerly legitimate businessmen like Michelino Le Paglia, August L. Rini, and Louis Rosen.[16] A number of small bootleg gangs, run by Jewish residents, began operating operating in the "Little Hollywood" area of the Hough neighborhood,[17] an area bounded by Lexington and Hough Avenues between E. 73rd and E. 79th Streets.[18] The brothels, gambling halls, and speakeasies of Little Hollywood became the favorite place to relax for small gang leaders throughout Cleveland, many of whom established their offices in the tiny red-light district.[17] Larger organizations included an Italian American gang centered on Woodland Avenue and E. 55th Street, and an Italian American gang centered on Woodland and E. 105th Street.[d] The Mayfield Road Mob also grew larger as it focused more on bootlegging.[15]

The Lonardo and Porrello brothers

The Lonardo family plot at Calvary Cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio

The four Lonardo brothers (Joseph, Frank, John, and Dominic) and seven Porrello brothers immigrated to the United States from Licata, Sicily. The Lonardo and Porrello brothers first established themselves as legitimate businessmen. The two groups dabbled in various criminal activities including robbery and extortion, before prohibition, but were not yet considered a major organization.[19]

At the start of Prohibition, Joseph "Big Joe" Lonardo was the boss of the Cleveland crime family.[19] He was the second oldest of the four Lonardo brothers. He and his brothers began by supplying Cleveland's bootleggers with the corn sugar they needed to produce liquor. His top lieutenant was Joseph "Big Joe" Porrello, who supervised various bootlegging and other criminal operations throughout the early to mid-1920s.

Split factions (1926–1927)

In 1926, the Porrello brothers (Rosario, Vincenzo, Angelo, Joseph, John, Ottavio, and Raymond) broke away from the Lonardo family and formed their own faction. They established their headquarters on upper Woodland Avenue, around E. 110th St. In 1927, hostilities between the Lonardo and Porrello families escalated as the families competed in the corn sugar business. During Prohibition, corn sugar was the prime ingredient in bootleg liquor.

In the summer of 1927, Joseph "Big Joe" Lonardo, boss of the Lonardo faction at the time, left for Sicily, Italy amongst rising tension between the two families. He left his brother John and adviser, Salvatore "Black Sam" Todaro as acting heads of the Cleveland family. When Lonardo returned, a sitdown was scheduled between the Lonardos and the Porrellos. On October 13, 1927 Joseph Lonardo and his eldest brother John were to meet with Angelo Porrello in a Porrello-owned barber shop. Inside the barbershop, the Lonardo brothers relaxed into playing a game of cards. They were then ambushed by two gunmen and assassinated. This allowed Joseph Porrello to take over as boss of the Cleveland crime family and become the most influential corn sugar baron in the Cleveland area.

The Porrellos (1927–1930)

The grave marker for Joseph and Vincenzo Porrello at Calvary Cemetery (Cleveland, Ohio).

Through late 1927 and much of 1928, the remaining Lonardo faction loyalists, which included an up-and-coming Mafia group known as the Mayfield Road Mob (led by Frank Milano) and various Jewish allies within the Cleveland Syndicate, continued to rival the Porrello family for the leadership within the Cleveland underworld. They vied for control of the most lucrative rackets outside of the corn sugar business, which included gambling, the most profitable hustle for American Mafia crime families after bootlegging.

To establish dominance, the Porrellos needed backing from the top Mafia bosses in New York, as well as other leading Mafia families across the United States. On December 5, 1928, a high-level American Mafia meeting was held at the Statler Hotel in Cleveland. Joseph Porrello, with the help of one of his top lieutenants Sam Tilocco, hosted the event in hopes that the top Mafia bosses from across the United States would declare him the official Mafia boss of Cleveland.

The attendees of the Cleveland meeting became participants to one of the first known La Cosa Nostra summits in American history. Some of the powerful bosses who attended included Joe Profaci and Vincent Mangano of New York. However, the meeting turned into a fiasco as some of the well-known attendees were recognized by local law enforcement and arrested along with their associates. Meanwhile, Mafiosi continued to arrive from across the country for the Mafia summit.

The Porrello brothers arranged for their associates to be bailed out of jail. In spite of the chaos, Joseph Porrello was declared the boss and recognized nationwide as head of the Cleveland crime family. On June 11, 1929, Porrello family Lieutenant Sam Todaro was murdered. At the end of Prohibition, most of the Porrello brothers and their supporters had been killed or had sided with the Mayfield Road Mob.

On July 5, 1930, Joseph Porrello was invited to a sitdown with Frank Milano at the Milano-owned Venetian Restaurant. Gunfire erupted and boss Joseph Porrello and his underling were killed. Vincenzo "Jim" Porrello succeeded his brother as Cleveland Mafia boss. Three weeks after his brother's murder, Vincenzo was shot in the back of the head and murdered in a grocery store on East 110th Street and Woodland Avenue in an area considered a Porrello stronghold. Raymond Porrello declared revenge, and on August 15, 1930, an explosion leveled Raymond's home. He was not home at the time.

Mayfield Road Mob (1930–1944)

Cleveland's Public Square, 1930.

In the early 1930s, Frank Milano and the "Mayfield Road Mob" of Cleveland's Cleveland's Little Italy had replaced the Porrellos as the Cleveland area's premier Mafia group. The Mafia faction was even mentioned by its old name in the movie The Godfather Part II as the Lakeview Road Gang, as Lakeview Cemetery borders Mayfield Road Hill which marks the beginning of Little Italy in Cleveland. This area is also referred to as "Murray Hill" by locals. This Mafia family was formed in the late 1920s and was headed by Frank Milano.

In 1931, Milano joined the National Crime Syndicate, a network of powerful criminals from around the country, such as Charlie Luciano and Meyer Lansky. Milano was now the official boss of Cleveland crime family. By 1932, Milano had become one of the top American Mafia bosses in the country and a charter Commission member.

On February 25, 1932, Milano made sure the Porrello family and their gang were finished for good by having Raymond and Rosario Porrello, along with their bodyguard, Dominic Gueli, murdered in a smoke shop on East 110th Street and Woodland Ave. in their old territory while they were playing cards. After this, the remaining Porrello brothers backed out of the Cleveland underworld and fled the area.

In 1935 Milano fled to Mexico after being indicted for tax evasion. Alfred Polizzi, another leading member of the Mayfield Road mob, seized power and reigned as boss until 1944 when he was convicted of tax evasion.

Collinwood Crew

The Collinwood Mob, also known as the Young Turks, was based in Cleveland's South Collinwood Neighborhood, was at times integrated with the Mayfield Road Mob and has a Mafia history as old as that of the Mayfield Road Gang. The most notorious of the Collinwood Crew was the late Alfred "Allie Con" Calabrese. Allie Con was feared and respected in both neighborhoods and known as a stand-up guy, a "true gangster". His crew consisted of Joe "Joey Loose" Lacobacci, the late Butchie Cisternino and others from an area that stretched from the 152nd Street bridge, up Five Points and Ivanhoe Road, down Mandalay across London Road to Wayside and over to Saranac bordering the Collinwood Train Yards.

Scalish era (1944–1976)

John Scalish held the longest reign of any Cleveland mob boss. He took control of the family in 1944, and remained the boss for thirty-two years, until his death in 1976. During his time as the crime family's leader, the group developed ties with important crime figures like Shondor Birns, Moe Dalitz, Meyer Lansky, and Tony Accardo. The Family also became allies of the extremely powerful Chicago Outfit and Genovese crime family. Additionally, The Cleveland mob also expanded its influence to areas throughout the Midwest, as well as California, Florida, and Las Vegas.

In the 1950s, the family reached its peak in size, with about 60 "made" members, and several times as many associates. By the 1970s the family's membership began to decrease because Scalish didn't induct many new members. Scalish died during open heart surgery in 1976 and failed to name a successor beforehand.

War with Danny Greene and decline (1976–1990s)

After the Death of John Scalish, it was decided by the family's members that James "Jack White" Licavoli would take over as boss. Licavoli, worked for the infamous Purple Gang in Detroit during the Prohibition before moving to Cleveland, where he gradually rose up the ranks of the city's underworld.

During his reign, an Irish gangster named Danny Greene began competing with the Mafia for control of union rackets. This resulted in a violent mob war between the Mafia and the Danny Greene gang, during which there were almost 40 car bombings in Cleveland. This time period earned Cleveland the unofficial title of "Bomb City U.S.A.".[20] Danny was backed by mob associate and teamster John Nardi, who was killed on May 17, 1977, by a car bomb in the parking lot of the Teamster Hall in Cleveland.

After several failed attempts to kill Greene, it became evident that Licavoli's outfit needed outside help. In 1977, Danny Greene was murdered after a scheduled visit to his dentist. After learning of the dentist appointment scheduled by Greene, Licavoli and Lonardo contracted Ray Ferritto to assassinate him. While Greene was in the dentist's office, a bomb was placed underneath a car adjacent to his. Upon return to his vehicle the bomb was exploded remotely. Greene lay under the ruins of his vehicle for at least an hour before his corpse was removed.[21] After Greene's assassination, Ferritto heard that the Cleveland Crime Family wanted him dead and in response became an FBI informant. The information that he provided led to the arrests of many high ranking mafia members, including John Licavoli himself.

Eventually, Licavoli was sent to prison for the murder of Danny Greene in 1982. Angelo Lonardo, the son of Prohibition mob boss Joseph Lonardo, took control of the Cleveland crime family. He led the family until 1984 when he was convicted of running a drug ring and was sentenced to life in prison. He then became an informant, making him the highest-ranking Mafia turncoat up to that time. He informed on powerful Mafiosi from numerous families while in prison, and caused serious damage to the Mafia's infrastructure.

After Lonardo became an informant, the Cleveland crime family's boss was John "Peanuts" Tronolone. Peanuts was a long-time Miami Beach resident who prior to becoming the boss, was a South Florida point man for the New York-based Genovese crime family and other mobsters. He was also closely associated with Meyer Lansky. In 1989 he became the only Mafia boss to have the distinction of being arrested in a hand-to-hand undercover transaction by local law enforcement. He accepted jewelry from Dave Green, an undercover Broward County deputy in exchange for bookmaking and loan-sharking debts. He died before he could start his nine-year state prison sentence.

In 1978, Cleveland police warned then-mayor Dennis Kucinich that local Mafia members had put out a hit on him because of some of his mayoral initiatives were hindering money-making opportunities. Police told Kucinich that a hitman was planning on shooting the mayor while he marched in The Columbus Day Parade in October 1978. Kucinich missed the parade as he was hospitalized with a ruptured ulcer.[22] However, he took note of the threat and began keeping a gun in his home for protection.[23]

The Cleveland Mafia was torn to pieces by the FBI and other law enforcement officials so aggressively in the 1980s that by 1990 the family only had a few made members left in the street. According to the FBI the Cleveland Mafia started to slowly rebuild the organization by making new members in the late 90's and all of the 2000s.

Historical leadership

Boss (official and acting)

  • 1920–1927 – Joseph "Big Joe" Lonardo – murdered in 1927.
  • 1927–1929 – Salvatore "Black Sam" Todaro – murdered in 1929.
  • 1929–1930 – Joseph "Big Joe" Porrello – murdered in 1930.
  • 1930–1935 – Frank Milano – fled to Mexico in 1935, moved to California in the late 1950s; died of natural causes in 1970.
  • 1935–1945 – Alfred "Big Al" Polizzi – arrested in 1944, retired to Florida in 1945, died of natural causes in 1975.
  • 1945–1976 – John T. "John Scalise" Scalish
  • 1976–1985 – James "Jack White" Licavoli – imprisoned in 1981, died of natural causes in 1985.
  • 1985–1991 – John "Peanuts" Tronolone – died of natural causes in 1991.
    • Acting 1991–1993 – Anthony "Tony Lib" Liberatore – imprisoned in 1993, died of natural causes in 1998.
  • 1993–2005 – Joseph "Joe Loose" Iacobacci – retired in 2005.
  • 2005–present – Russell "R.J." Papalardo[24]


  • 1930–1976 – Anthony Milano – retired in 1976, deceased in 1978.
  • 1976 – Calogero "Leo Lips" Moceri – disappeared and murdered in 1976.
  • 1976–1983 – Angelo "Big Ange" Lonardo – turned informant in October 1983, deceased in 2006.
  • 1983–1985 – John "Peanuts" Tronolone – became boss in 1985.
  • 1985–1993 – Anthony "Tony Lib" Liberatore – imprisoned in 1993, deceased in 1998.
  • 1993–1995 – Alfred "Allie" Calabrese – imprisoned in 1995.
  • 1995–2005 – Russel "RJ" Papalardo – became boss


  • 1930–1972 – John DeMarco
  • 1972–1973 – Frank "Frankie B" Brancato
  • 1973–1977 – Anthony "Tony Dope" Delsanter
  • 1977–1985 – John "Peanuts" Tronolone – became underboss in 1985.
  • 1985–1994 – Louis "Bones" Battista aka "The Bulldog" (deceased)
  • 1999–present – Raymond “Lefty” LaMarca

Former members

  • Milton "Maishe" Rockman[25] – Rockman was a Jewish mobster affiliated with the Cleveland crime family.[26] Rockman was the brother-in-law of Cleveland crime family bosses John T. Scalish[25] and Angelo Lonardo, and was a top Cleveland crime family associate involved in labor racketeering and the Las Vegas casino interests of the Cleveland Mafia.[27]
  • Ronald "The Crab" Carabbia[28] – Carabbia managed organized crime in the Youngstown, Ohio, area on behalf of the Cleveland crime family.[28] Carabbia is known for murdering Cleveland's Irish mob boss Danny Greene alongside Ray Ferritto in 1977. He received a life sentence after Ferritto became a government witness and testified against him. He was released in 2002.[29]


  1. ^ "Black hand" murders continued into the 1920s.[2]
  2. ^ Now part of Cleveland's Central and Downtown neighborhoods, Big Italy ran along Woodland Avenue from Ontario Street/Orange Avenue in the west to E. 40th Street in the east. Initially Sicilian (with Italians coming after 1910), the Big Italy community formed about 1900. It was home to most the city's wholesale and retail produce stores, and most residents worked as laborers and tradesmen. It began to decline significantly during the 1930s, and vanished in the 1940s as whites moved out and African Americans moved in.[6][7][8]
  3. ^ Cleveland crime historian Allan R. May says Benigno was the first head of the Mayfield Road Mob.[5] But Cleveland public prosecutor Frank J. Merrick said that after Benigno was executed in June 1922, there was no successor as head of the gang,[10] which makes the case for a distinction between the Benigno Gang and the Mayfield Road Mob.
  4. ^ These gangs existed prior to Prohibition, but were much smaller, less organized, and focused primarily on small-time crimes like auto theft, burglary, and the occasional raid of goods from unattended boxcars in railroad yards.[15]
  1. ^ May 2014, p. 71.
  2. ^ Kelly, Ralph (December 26, 1933). "Murder in Cleveland: The Prohibition Toll. Chapter 1-The Bodies in the Snow". The Plain Dealer. pp. 1, 9.
  3. ^ Griffin & DeNevi 2002, p. 166.
  4. ^ McCarthy 2011, pp. 109-110.
  5. ^ a b May 2014, p. 67.
  6. ^ Bonocore 2005, p. 20.
  7. ^ Mitchell 2008, p. 7.
  8. ^ Miller & Wheeler 1997, p. 103.
  9. ^ May 2014, pp. 67, 76, 82.
  10. ^ a b Merrick, Frank J. (August 27, 1933). "Giving the Low-Down on Cleveland Rackets". The Plain Dealer. pp. Plain Dealer Magazine 3, 5.
  11. ^ May 2014, pp. 67-79.
  12. ^ May 2014, p. 171.
  13. ^ Birkhimer, Lily (June 1, 2012). "The Prohibition Era Begins". Ohio Memory. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  14. ^ Anderson 2003, p. 96.
  15. ^ a b c Kelly, Ralph (December 27, 1933). "Murder in Cleveland: The Prohibition Toll. Chapter 2-Rosen and Adelson Got Better Publicity". The Plain Dealer. pp. 1, 5.
  16. ^ Kelly, Ralph (December 28, 1933). "Murder in Cleveland: The Prohibition Toll. Chapter 3—Rise of the Rum Kings; the 'Bloody Corner". The Plain Dealer. pp. 1, 5.
  17. ^ a b Kelly, Ralph (December 30, 1933). "Murder in Cleveland: The Prohibition Toll. Chapter 5—Death in Ambler Park: A Bootleg Joke". The Plain Dealer. p. 7.
  18. ^ Cleveland City Planning Commission (1991). Civic Vision 2000 Citywide Plan (PDF) (Report). Cleveland, Ohio. p. 92. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
  19. ^ a b DeVico 2007, p. 142.
  20. ^ Petkovic, John (May 26, 2016). "The Cleveland Mafia: Death of a don ignites Bomb City, USA". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
  21. ^ "Car bomb kills Danny Greene". The Plain Dealer. October 7, 1977. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
  22. ^ Renner, James (July 8, 2007). "The Mafia Plot To Kill Dennis Kucinich". The Cleveland Free Times. Archived from the original on July 8, 2007. Retrieved June 23, 2017.
  23. ^ Dubail, Jean (April 27, 2007). "Kucinich packed heat after 1978 Mafia death plot". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  24. ^ Martinelli 2011, p. 84.
  25. ^ a b Whelan, Edward P. (February 15, 2011). "The Life and Hard Times of Cleveland's Mafia: How Danny Greene's Murder Exploded The Godfather Myth". Cleveland Scene. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  26. ^ Koziol, Ronald (March 27, 1986). "Reputed Mob Boss Sentenced". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  27. ^ Cardarella, Toni (January 28, 1986). "Reputed mob figure Milton Rockman, who was held without..." United Press International. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  28. ^ a b Burnett, Thomas M. (March 27, 1982). "Cleveland mob in disarray". United Press International. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  29. ^ Meade, Patricia (September 24, 2002). "Carabbia is let out of prison". Youngstown Vindicator. Retrieved August 23, 2018.