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Mob murder suggests link to international drug ring

July 1, 1993

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11545401963040.jpg’, ”, ‘Dominic Iasparro’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11545402267303.jpg’, ‘File photo’, ‘Alfano’s Pizza Restaurant, Oregon, Ill., formerly owned by Pietro Alfano, who was second in command for Midwest Mob operations. According to the FBI investigation, this pizzeria supplied the Chicago “Outfit” with heroin, which was picked up by their couriers in pizza boxes.’);

Rockford Mobster Joseph J. Maggio’s FBI file shows likely motive for his 1980 killing, Mob efforts to gain access to FBI files

He was found dead in the back seat of his car along Safford Road by two Winnebago County Sheriff’s deputies on April, 6, 1980. The victim, Rockford Mob member Joseph J. Maggio, was shot once in the side of the head at close range with a 6.35mm bullet, which was made in Austria.

His killer has never been charged, and the shooting remains an open and unsolved case. However, according to Maggio’s extensive FBI file, a “prime suspect” was identified by unknown sources, and the motive for his killing was “a result of his objection to LCN [La Cosa Nostra or Mafia] entry into the narcotics business in Rockford.”

And, according to an October 1984 FBI document, an unknown informant “was instructed by his ‘associates’ in either Las Vegas or Los Angeles that Maggio had to be killed. [Redacted] ‘associates’ are members of the LCN.”

Maggio’s murder and FBI file provides another piece to the puzzle that may one day directly link Rockford to the Mafia-run heroin and cocaine smuggling conspiracy of the 1970s and 1980s, which was known as the “Pizza Connection.”

Of the nearly 1,500 pages The Rock River Times requested from Maggio’s FBI file, only 90 pages were released by the U.S. Justice Department. Most of the 90 pages released were heavily redacted or censored for content.

However, the information that was released shows the Mob’s determination to not only scam ordinary citizens out of money through businesses that appear completely legitimate, but also gain access to FBI files.

Origins

Less than two months before Maggio was killed, he and other Mafia members met “several times” in February 1980 with Rockford Mob boss Joseph Zammuto in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.—where Zammuto vacationed during the winter each year.

Exactly what was discussed at the meeting is not known. However, Maggio’s heavily-redacted file indicates an unknown individual or group “began dealing narcotics in Rockford in August 1980, with Zammuto’s sanction.”

As to who began dealing drugs with Zammuto’s approval is not known because of Maggio’s redacted FBI file. However, what is known is John S. Leombruni was convicted in 1983 for trafficking cocaine in Rockford and the surrounding area.

According to a March 4, 1984, article in the Rockford Register Star: “There were indications in 1982 that a six-month investigation by the FBI of cocaine traffic in Rockford had turned up Mob connections. Twelve persons were indicted, including John S. Leombruni, who was described as the city’s biggest cocaine dealer. …Leombruni had lived in Las Vegas the year before his arrest.”

And, according to the Register Star article, an FBI affidavit indicated Leombruni “was run out of town by ‘the Mafia chief in Las Vegas.’ Court-approved wiretaps showed Mob involvement in the Rockford cocaine case, FBI agents said, but were not allowed as evidence in Leombruni’s trial.” He was tried in federal court in Rockford.

The sequence of incidents, from published sources, suggests a strong link between the Rockford Mob and other participants in the Pizza Connection, whose second-in-command for Midwest operations was Oregon, Ill., pizza-maker Pietro Alfano.

According to a source for The Rock River Times, Alfano, now 70, “retired” and returned to Sicily shortly after his release from federal prison in 1992. As of 2004, Alfano’s son operated the restaurant, which was still in business in Oregon.

Ralph Blumenthal, reporter for The New York Times and author of the 1988 book Last Days of the Sicilians, wrote that Alfano immigrated to the United States between 1963 and 1967 from Cinisi, Sicily, a town about 8 miles west of Palermo near the Mediterranean Sea.

Cinisi was also the hometown of former Sicilian Mob boss Gaetano Badalamenti, who was born in 1923, and died in 2004. Badalamenti became head of the Sicilian Mafia in 1969, but fled for his life to Brazil in November 1978 in the wake of the “Mafia wars” in Sicily.

Alfano and other Mob members born in Sicily, but working in the United States, were referred to as “Zips” by their American-born counterparts. According to Selwyn Raab, former New York Times reporter and author of the 2005 book Five Families: The rise, decline and resurgence of America’s most powerful Mafia empires, the term “Zip” may be Sicilian slang for “hicks” or “primitives.”

Drugs and intelligence files

April 8, 1984, Alfano and Badalamenti were apprehended by police in Madrid, Spain. Authorities charged that they, along with 29 others overseas and in the United States, participated in a multinational, $1.65 billion heroin/cocaine smuggling and money laundering conspiracy.

The conspiracy stretched from poppy fields in Afghanistan to banks in Switzerland, ships in Bulgaria and Turkey, pay phones in Brazil, and pizza restaurants in New York, Oregon, Ill., and Milton, Wis. The conspiracy would become known as the “Pizza Connection,” the successor to the 1950s’ and 1960s’ “French Connection.”

Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Chief and former Interim Chief of the Rockford Police Department Dominic Iasparro, head of the Rockford-area Metro Narcotics task force, has been with the agency for about 32 years. Iasparro recalled area drug trafficking during the time of the Pizza Connection.

“As I understand it, the drugs weren’t coming out here—they were staying in New York,” Iasparro said during an April 12, 2004, interview.

In addition to being head of the local narcotics unit, Iasparro was also responsible for destroying police intelligence files concerning Rockford Mob members in the mid-1980s that Iasparro said was part of a nationwide effort to purge such information. Maggio’s dossier was among the files requested by The Rock River Times last year, but apparently destroyed during the purge.

Immigration and sponsorship

Under what circumstances Alfano arrived in the United States is not clear. However, what is clear is Alfano and other Sicilians in the Midwest and on the East Coast were employed in the pizza business. Also apparent is former Rockford Mob boss Frank J. Buscemi was reported by the Register Star to have facilitated the immigration of “several cousins to Rockford from Sicily and set them up in business.”

What is not certain is whether Buscemi, a Chicago native, sponsored Alfano’s move to Illinois. Buscemi was owner of Stateline Vending Co., Inc., and Rondinella Foods Co., before his death in Rockford Dec. 7, 1987. Rondinella was a wholesale cheese, food and pizza ingredient distributor.

Stateline Vending began operating from the basement of the Aragona Club on Kent Street before moving to 1128 S. Winnebago St., which was owned by former Mafia Adviser Joseph Zito and Mobster Jasper Calo. The vending business eventually settled at 326 W. Jefferson St., in Rockford, before it was dissolved in 1988, after Buscemi’s death.

Winnebago County court documents from 1988 indicate alleged Rockford Mob hit man Frank G. Saladino worked for Rondinella in the 1980s when Buscemi owned the business. Saladino was found dead April 25, 2005, in Hampshire, Ill., by federal agents that went to arrest him on charges of murder and other illegal Mob-related activities.

According to Buscemi’s recently released FBI file, Buscemi was also the target of a federal investigation from 1981 to 1986 in connection with Maggio’s murder and “extortionate business practices.”

“These allegations involved Buscemi’s cheese distribution business, RONDINELLA FOODS, and his vending machine operation, STATE-LINE VENDING.” Buscemi’s file also indicates the investigation produced “numerous leads of extreme value, including contacts between Frank J. Buscemi and the subject of an ongoing Boston drug task force investigation.”

Despite the years of investigations, Buscemi was never charged with any crime before his death in 1987.

Business meeting

The M

ob’s historic ties to the vending machine business is significant in establishing an indirect link between the Rockford Mob and the Pizza Connection because of a meeting that took place in July 1978 in Milwaukee among Mob members from New York, Milwaukee and Rockford.

In July 1978, federal court documents show Rockford Mafia Adviser Joseph Zito, Mob Underboss Charles Vince, and Phillip J. Emordeno, along with other members of the Milwaukee and New York Mafia, were alleged to have tried to extort money from a competing upstart vending machine company owner. The owner of the company the Mob members tried to shake down was actually an undercover federal agent named Gail T. Cobb, who was masquerading as Tony Conte, owner of Best Vending Co.

According to page 229 of Raab’s book, legendary FBI agent Donnie Brasco, whose real name was Joseph Pistone, was “used” by Bonanno Mob soldier Benjamin “Lefty Guns” Ruggiero “on cooperative ventures with other families in New York, Florida and Milwaukee.”

Blumenthal wrote on page 42 of his book that in 1978 Pistone traveled to Milwaukee to vouch for Cobb, and “Pistone helped Cobb cement an alliance between the Bonanno and [Milwaukee Mob boss Frank P.] Balistrieri clans.”

Actor Johnny Depp portrayed Pistone in the 1997 movie Donnie Brasco, during the time in the late 1970s when Pistone infiltrated organized crime.

The Register Star described the 1978 meeting in its March 1984 article as being partly arranged by Rockford Mob members. The article concluded the meeting “confirmed long-held intelligence information that…[the Rockford Mob] possessed the influence to deal directly with the Milwaukee and New York organized crime families.”

The meeting was set to quash a possible violent conflict between Cobb and Mafia members.

Ruggerio’s Mob captain, Michael Sa Bella, contacted Tony Riela—a New Jersey Mob member with ties to the Rockford Mafia. Riela called Rockford to schedule the meeting, and Ruggiero called Zito several times. Vince also called Balistrieri’s son, J. Peter Balisrieri, shortly before the meeting.

According to the Register Star article, “on July 29, 1978, Cobb met the three Rockford men and Ruggiero at the Centre Stage Restaurant in Milwaukee. … Ruggiero told Cobb that the vending machine business in Milwaukee was controlled by the mob,” and if Cobb wanted to enter the business, he would have to share his profits with the Mafia or be killed. Since the New York and Milwaukee crime families worked together, “Cobb also was told he would have to pay a portion of his profits to the Bonanno family,” which was headed at that time by Carmine “Lilo” Galante.

Death on the patio

Blumenthal wrote that the shotgun assignation of Galante in the mid-afternoon July 12, 1979, while he was dining on the patio of a restaurant in Brooklyn, N.Y., marked a tipping point in the power struggle to control drug trafficking in America. Pizza Connection prosecutors believed Galante’s murder “cleared the way for Sicilian Mafia rivals in America to set up the Pizza Connection.”

Raab said on page 207 that Galante attempted to injure the other four New York Mob familyies’ interests in the drug trade, especially the Gambino crime family. “Perhaps even more grievous, after Carlo Gambino’s death [Galante] had openly predicted that he would be crowned boss of bosses.”

Although Frank Balistrieri and others would be sent to prison as a result of Cobb and Pistone’s efforts, no Rockford Mob members were indicted in the Milwaukee case. The same may also be said about the Pizza Connection conspiracy.

Shooting on the sidewalk

Unlike Galante, Alfano survived a Mob attempt on his life.

After emerging from a Balducci’s delicatessen in Greenwhich Village, N.Y., the evening of Feb. 11, 1987, Alfano was shot three times in the back by two men who emerged from a red car. The shooting occurred during the October 1985 to March 1987 Pizza Connection trial.

Blumenthal wrote that the failed assassination attempt, which left Alfano paralyzed below the waist and confined to a wheel chair, was allegedly arranged by Gambino family associates.

Blumenthal alleged Salvatore Spatola, a convicted heroin and cocaine smuggler, said the attempted killing of Alfano had been arranged by Pasquale Conte Sr.—a captain in the Gambino family.

The exact motive for Alfano’s shooting appears a mystery. However, Blumenthal wrote that convicted New Jersey bank robber Frank Bavosa told the FBI and New York police he and two other men were paid $40,000 to kill Alfano “allegedly because of his continuing drug-trafficking activities.”

Autonomous but united

Even though the Rockford Mob has historically been considered part of the Chicago Mafia, which is known as “The Outfit,” Tommaso Buscetta, Sicilian Mafia turncoat and lead witness in the Pizza Connection trial, testified that Italian-based Mobsters based throughout the world acted as one in achieving their objectives.

Supporting that claim is a statement from Thomas V. Fuentes, special agent in the organized crime section for the FBI. During a 2003 broadcast on the History Channel, Fuentes said a Nov. 14, 1957, meeting of Mafia bosses from throughout the United States in Apalachin, N.Y., was in part to decide whether American Mob members would act cohesively to cash in on the drug trade.

Specifically, Fuentes said: “We believe that the main purpose was for the bosses of the American families to decide whether or not they would engage jointly in heroin trafficking with their cousins in Sicily.”

Rockford Mob Consuleri Joseph Zito’s brother, Frank Zito, boss of the Springfield, Ill., Mob, was one of those who attended the Apalachin conference, according to Joseph Zito’s FBI file.

Also in attendance at the Apalachin meeting with Zito were at least 58 other Mob members, which included Carlo Gambino; Vito Genovese, boss of the New York Genovese crime family; Gambino’s brother-in-law, Paul Castellano; and Joe Bonanno. Castellano would be Gambino’s successor after Gambino’s death in 1976. Castellano was murdered in 1986, and was succeeded by John Gotti, who died in a Missouri prison medical center June10, 2002.

Scam in Alabama

In addition to a probable motive for Maggio’s killing, Maggio’s FBI file shows the Mob’s determination to not only steal money from citizens, but gain access to FBI files.

Maggio was convicted Dec. 6, 1972, on seven counts of mail fraud and one count of conspiracy. The conviction was obtained after an unidentified male informant said the conspiracy involved a “boat registration scheme, wherein the name United States Merchant Marine was used to collect funds for a national boat registration service.

“He said they planned to circulate a letter to all boat owners for a $10 contribution, which would then be used as a registration fee for a registry to be maintained by the company [United States Merchant Marine Service, Inc.]. …

“[Redact] had asked him if he had any idea how the United States Merchant Marine Service could patch into the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) National Crime Information Center (NCIC).”

Maggio was born Aug. 30, 1936, in Rockford, where he lived his entire life, until his death at age 43. Maggio married in 1959, and had three sons and one daughter. He became a made Mob member in approximately February 1965.

Editor’s note: Jeff Havens is a former award-winning staff writer for the The Rock River Times. He lived most of his life in the Rockford area, and wrote dozens of news articles about the Mob in Rockford and Chicago.

From the Aug. 2-8, 2006, issue

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