Licata, Nicola "Nick" (1897-1974)

Born Camporeale, Sicily, Feb. 20, 1897.

Died Santa Monica, CA, Oct, 19, 1974.


Nick Licata is remembered as the boss who presided over the dramatic decline of the Los Angeles crime family.

Licata was born in Camporeale, in the Sicilian province of Palermo. He entered the U.S. through New York on Dec. 7, 1913, settling first in Detroit. He later married there. He and his wife Josephine had two children in Highland Park, Michigan. He resettled in southern California in 1929.

First a grocer and then the owner of a Burbank cafe, Licata earned notice in the underworld through the summer 1951 murders of Kansas City Mafiosi Tony Brancato and Tony Trombino. Brancato and Trombino were moving into some of the Los Angeles rackets, apparently as part of a westward push by the Kansas City crime family. In mid-August, police rounded up Jimmy and Warren Fratianno, Sam London, and Sam Lazes, while they searched for missing Fratianno associates Charles Battaglia and Angelo Polizzi. Fratianno was considered the prime suspect in the killings, but Licata provided him with an alibi.

Licata became a front man for boss Jack Dragna during the later years of Dragna's reign. He served under Frank DeSimone for a decade after Dragna's death. After DeSimone passed in August 1967, Licata took control of a deeply divided crime family. Longtime California racketeer Joseph Dippolito served as underboss.


Law enforcement authorities had learned a great deal about the L.A. family by that time, and Licata was constantly hounded by police and federal agents. He was unable to consolidate his power. A branch of the criminal organization appears to have come under the control of Jack Dragna's son shortly after Licata ascended to the boss position.

Though he had earlier convinced Kansas City mafiosi to stay out of California, boss Licata also had to deal with incursions by the Cleveland mob family.

In July 1969, Licata was called before a grand jury to answer questions about the Jan. 10, 1969, slaying of Julius Anthony Petro of Cleveland. Known for committing bank robberies and suspected of murder in Cleveland, Petro was found shot to death in a parked car at the Los Angeles International Airport. Licata refused to testify and was ordered to prison for contempt of court. The following May, U.S. District Court Judge Jesse Curtis released Licata on $2,500 bail while he appealed the contempt order. Judge Curtis said he expected Licata would never answer questions on the Petro case.

With his family and his territory in disarray, Licata retained the title of boss - though probably not the power - until his death in fall of 1974. Licata died Oct. 19, 1974, at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica.

A Requiem Mass was celebrated for Licata Oct. 23 at St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in downtown Los Angeles. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery. About 150 people attended the services.

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Lazia, Johnny (1895-1934)

Born Brooklyn, NY, Sept. 28, 1895.

Killed Kansas City, MO, July 10, 1934.


Lazia likely started his underworld career as a thug for the Tom Pendergast political machine in Kansas City. By 1928, he had graduated to leader of the North Side Democratic Club and controlled much of the organized criminal activity in the region.

Lazia was born in Brooklyn, NY (the family name was Lazio) to immigrant parents Giuseppe and Frances. His birth year is generally recorded as 1896, which appears on his gravestone. A date of Sept. 28, 1895, appears on Lazia's World War I draft registration. The family relocated to Kansas City, Missouri, shortly after his birth and settled on Campbell Street.

Lazia was arrested in 1915. He was charged with armed robbery and with firing a weapon at a local police captain. His conviction resulted in a prison sentence of 15 years. The local political machine had an interest in Lazia, however, and he was paroled after serving just eight months behind bars.

As he matured, Lazia's underworld specialty became gambling. He operated a dog racing track and the swank Cuban Gardens club. Other business ventures included a night club and soft drink concessions. He appears to have coordinated bootlegging operations in the region during and following the Prohibition Era.

Lazia served as mentor for Charles "Mad Dog" Gargotta and Anthony Gizzo. Gargotta later allied with Lazia successor Charles Binaggio. (Gargotta and Binaggio were both killed in the Jackson County Democratic Club headquarters on April 5, 1950. Gizzo briefly served as top boss of the Kansas City Mob in the early 1950s.)

The influence of the Pendergast machine kept local law enforcement off Lazia's back. However, federal tax agents managed to nab the North Side gangster in 1930. He was tried and convicted of tax evasion. Though he was sentenced to a year in prison, he remained free during appeals.


While the appeal process dragged on, Lazia was believed to be involved in the Union Station Massacre and a gang shootout on Armour Boulevard.

Underworld rivals caught up with Lazia before the law did. Early on July 10, 1934, two men - one carrying a machine gun and the other carrying a shotgun - attacked and mortally wounded the Kansas City gang boss as he stepped from his car at his apartment house. With him at the time of the shooting were his wife and their trusted friends Mr. and Mrs. Charles Carolla. (Charlie "the Wop" Carolla served as Lazia's bodyguard.) Lazia was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital where surgery was performed. He lingered for eight hours before succumbing to his wounds.

Lazia's funeral cortege stretched for several miles. A dozen motorcycle police officers served as escort. Ceremonies began at the home of his older sister Mary Antonello (she married Joseph Antonello in January 1910). They continued at Holy Rosary Church. Burial took place at St. Mary's Cemetery. Lazia was laid to rest beside his parents.

Lazia's pall bearers included his longtime friends James Balestrere, Joseph Gallucci and Charles Gargotta.

Local police rounded up more than two dozen suspects. Rumors indicated that hours before the Lazia shooting, Lazia had argued with operators of a South Side beer tavern. There was wide speculation that his murder was related to alcohol rackets.

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Lauritano, Leopoldo (1889-?)

Born Naples, Italy, Dec. 30, 1889.

Died ?, after 1942.

Lauritano was a Brooklyn-based Camorra leader who ran a coffeehouse/saloon at 113 Navy Street and also conducted a lucrative murder-for-hire business.

Born in the Naples area near the end of 1889, Lauritano reached the United States in 1906 and was naturalized an American citizen in January 1915. He lived and worked in the area of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and participated in the operation of the infamous Navy Street Gang. His brother Anthony appears to have been acquainted with if not involved with the gang.

In the 1910s, as the Sicilian Mafia and Neapolitan Camorra in the New York area cooperated to monopolize rackets, Lauritano became a sort of sergeant-at-arms for the budding syndicate. He commanded what may have been the first Brooklyn-based murder-for-hire organization.

It was to Lauritano that Bronx Mafia boss Ciro Terranova allegedly ran to contract a hit on Joe DeMarco in 1916.


Camorra bosses took offense at Morello-Terranova actions and decided to dissolve the partnership and eliminate as much of the Sicilian Mafia leadership in New York as possible. Lauritano gunmen were employed later in 1916 to perform the executions, which resulted in the deaths of Terranova's brother Nicholas and aide Charles Ubriaco.

According to testimony from hitman Johnny "Lefty" Esposito, Lauritano paid his gunmen a steady salary to keep them on retainer. (Esposito complained that Lauritano lowered his pay as a result of the accidental killing of Lauritano friend Charles Lombardi during the DeMarco hit.)

In 1918, Lauritano was arrested for his involvement in the 1916 murder of Giuseppe Verrazano at the Italian Gardens in Manhattan. While held for that crime, he was tried and convicted of manslaughter in connection with another killing. He was sentenced to serve 20 years in state prison. The 1920 Census found him at Clinton State Prison in Dannemora.

On Jan. 12, 1926, Lauritano was released from prison on parole. He had served just seven and a half years of his original 20-year sentence. He was immediately rearrested on a 1918 indictment in the Verrazano murder case. On Jan. 14, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Selah B. Strong released Lauritano on a habeas corpus writ. Strong noted that he had dismissed the murder indictment against Lauritano two and a half years earlier.

Lauritano's discharge resulted in an bitter public feud between Justice Strong and Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Dodd. Strong insisted that Dodd had approved the dismissal of the murder charge in the summer of 1923. Dodd denied having any part in the dismissal.

In March of 1927, Lauritano was taken into custody as a material witness against accused Camorra assassin Anthony "Shoemaker" Paretti. He was held on $100,000 bail at the Raymond Street Jail in Brooklyn. Paretti went to trial that June. Camorra leaders Lauritano, Allessandro Vollero and Pellegrino Morano were all called to testify. All denied knowing Paretti. Lauritano further denied knowing his fellow witnesses and any members of the Navy Street Gang.
Paretti was convicted and sentenced to die in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison. Lauritano's testimony caused him to be tried for perjury.

The perjury trial began on Feb. 10, 1927. On the following day, Assistant District Attorney James I. Cuff confronted Lauritano with a photograph showing him at a gathering of the Navy Street Gang. Lauritano changed his plea to guilty and admitted that he lied about his associations with gang members.

On March 1, Justice James C. Cropsey of Brooklyn Supreme Court sentenced Lauritano to serve five years in Sing Sing Prison. According to reports, Lauritano narrowly avoided a more serious sentence because his perjury occurred two days before the effective date of the strict Baumes laws.

After his release, Lauritano went to live with his brother Anthony on Adelphi Street in Brooklyn. The two worked together on Navy Street. Documentation on Lauritano after the start of World War II is lacking.


Sources:
  •  "10 held when gunman exposes 23 murders," New York Tribune, Nov. 28, 1917, p. 16.
  •  "Armored car owner queried on Marlow," New York Times, July 11, 1929, p. 1.
  •  "Assassin, hired at $15 a week, admits part in 6 murders," New York Tribune, June 7, 1918, p. 16.
  •  "Convicts at trial refuse to testify," New York Times, July 1, 1926.
  •  "Dodd charges plot to Justice Strong," New York Times, Jan. 28, 1926.
  •  "'Judge, I lied,' he says," New York Times, Feb. 12, 1927.
  •  "Justice accuses Dodd of blunder," New York Times, Jan. 29, 1926.
  •  "Lauritano held in $100,000," New York Times, March 27, 1926.
  •  "Paretti witness gets five years," New York Times, March 2, 1927.
  •  "'Shoemaker,' fugitive for 10 years, surrenders on indictment for murder by Navy St. Gang," New York Times, March 17, 1926.
  •  Leopoldo Lauritano Naturalization Petition No. 12129 dated Jan. 28, 1915.
  •  Leopoldo Lauritano World War II draft registration, 1942.
  •  U.S. Census of 1920, Clinton Prison at Dannemora, Jan. 7, 1920.