The families across the Great Plains were as varied as they come. St. Louis was a city rocked by a bombing war between mob factions, while Springfield's boss rarely raised his voice. The mile-high gangsters in Denver were local celebrities, while Madison's mob boss was virtually unknown. Unlike the good-natured Midwest temperament and folksy ways, the Mafia out West was just as dangerous as back East.
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City was a town that was raucous in its own right before the Mafia arrived. Scarface DiGiovanni arrived from Sicily in 1912. Like many Sicilian gangsters he left the old country with a price on his head. DiGiovanni and his gang made a bundle of money and terrorized the town during Prohibition. They preyed on their own, as was often the case. It was the law-abiding Italians and Sicilians who suffered before the gangs grew powerful enough to menace the general population. Anthony “Fat Tony” Gizzo was a major early Mafia power in the city. After his death and the death of his predecessor Charles Binaggio, the Kansas City mob fell under the control of Nick Civella. Nick brought the family immense power and wealth, and law enforcement scrutiny. He was indicted for skimming casinos. Nick died before he went to trial. His brother Tony Ripes reportedly took over the reigns and, though he has since died, the small crime family is still active.
Most of the Midwest Mafia families were under the thumb of the Chicago Outfit. The Outfit represented their interests at Commission meetings and often partnered with the smaller families in criminal operations.
The city of Springfield, capital of Illinois and one-time residence of Abraham Lincoln, never registered a big blip on the national crime scene. But the cozy town of 100,000 had its own homegrown Mafia family under the leadership of Frank Zito, who ran the family for decades before his death by natural causes in 1974. Zito was active in jukeboxes and vending machines, and he operated a number of bars. He was referred to by a newspaper reporter as one of the most dangerous mobsters in the state of Illinois. But his neighbors, of course, described him as a quiet man who kept to himself.
This may seem an improbable locale for a Mafia family, but the FBI says one existed there, and its don was a man named Carlo Caputo. Caputo and the alleged Mafia family are like Bigfoot sightings. People swore it was out there, but it was not an “in your face” family like the boys in New York and Chicago.
The shadowy Caputo is alleged to have had ties to the Chicago and Milwaukee mobs, but less is known about him than his more famous associates. Caputo came to Madison in 1940. He was successful in real estate and ran restaurants, bars, and liquor stores. Caputo did thirty days in prison for income tax evasion and continued to expand his seemingly above-board businesses. When an associate of Caputo's named Joseph Aiello died a natural death, the FBI probed into his affairs and determined that the men were a two-man operation, the smallest Mafia family in history. Caputo died in 1993 at the age of ninety and went to his grave denying the government's charges. When asked to comment on the don's death, however, a local businessman said, “This is one man I don't want to discuss.”
The Milwaukee Mafia family began as a subsidiary of the Chicago organization. The first don was Vito Guardalabene. Guardalabene was followed by his son Peter. When the Commission was formed, they determined that Milwaukee would remain an extension of Chicago. Frank Balistrieri took over the family and led it until his death in 1993. The Milwaukee and Kansas City mobs, with the help of the corrupt Teamsters Union, got in on the Las Vegas casino boom in the 1970s. Unbeknownst to the hard-working rank and file of the Teamsters, their pension fund funded the Stardust Hotel and other casinos. And the mob made plenty of money “skimming” off the top in the casino counting rooms before it was reported to the IRS. After Balistr-ieri's death, his sons reportedly took over, but the family has faded from the underworld scene.
St. Louis, Missouri
The St. Louis crime family thrived during Prohibition and had more than its share of gang violence. Vito Giannola was the first St. Louis don. The most famous was Anthony Giordano. The St. Louis mob appears to have had an independent streak. Its leadership did not attend the Apalachin conference that ended in disaster. Giordano was a skilled leader, and as a result he projected an image of power and influence that the family did not really have. It was a second-tier family. This was evident after Giordano's death — the family went into its death throes after the don's demise. His succeeding boss, Matthew Trupiano, was busted for running a high-stakes poker game, a far cry from the millions the family once made skimming from the casinos in Vegas. Trupiano died of a heart attack in October 1997, but some say the small family has hobbled along.
The gangsters of St. Louis had colorful names for their families in the days of Prohibition. The most powerful organizations called themselves the Green Ones, the Pillow Gang, the Egan's Rats, the Hogan Gang, and the Cuckoos. Eventually one familiar name, the Mafia, reigned supreme.
This underworld outfit began in the 1880s and was more like a Western movie than a gangster melodrama. The first boss was a French-Canadian named Lou Blonger. He ran saloons that also featured prostitution as an attraction. This was common in the Old West. Blonger's career lasted from the wild and woolly 1880s until the 1920s, when he was finally imprisoned.
To counter the mob violence, the citizenry turned to an equally unsavory organization, the Ku Klux Klan, to restore order. The mayor, chief of police, and many cops were Klansmen. The KKK did not vanquish vice in Denver; they controlled and profited from it. The American Legion took on the Klan and won, eliminating the KKK's influence in the police force.
The Italians finally arrived in the 1930s in the persons of Pete and Sam Carlino. They brought their brand of bootlegging into the Wild West. The Mafia was split into two groups, both trying to stake their claim as the rightful racket kingpins of Colorado. The Smaldone brothers, with such fearsome nicknames as “Chauncey,” “Checkers,” and “Flip-Flop,” ruled their factions out of Denver, while Jim Coletti ran Pueblo. Without new recruits the local mob family dwindled. The Smaldones were reduced to a crime family of three. Checkers died in 1996, Flip-Flop died in 1998, and Chauncey died in 2006. The Denver/Pueblo family is no more.