DiGiovanni, Joseph (1888-1971)

Born Chiusa Sclafani, Sicily, April 23, 1888.

Died Kansas City, Aug. 5, 1971.

"Joe Church" DiGiovanni is among the earliest known Mafia bosses of Kansas City, MO. His family roots extend back to Chiusa Sclafani in Sicily. He entered the United States in 1903.

Once settled in Kansas City, Joseph and his brothers Paul and Pietro/Peter (known as "Sugarhouse Pete") reportedly engaged in Black Hand extortion and kidnapping within the local Italian communities. Paul DiGiovanni appears to have served as boss of the operation in its early stages and into the Prohibition Era (Paul died in 1929). According to legend, an attempt to firebomb a building in order to collect on its insurance resulted in an unexpected explosion that left Joseph permanently scarred on his face and hands.

Black market opportunities presented themselves during the First World War, and the DiGiovannis - who ran a wholesale grocery - took full advantage. Joseph DiGiovanni became partners with James Balestrere in a Prohibition Era bootlegging operation.

The U.S. Senate's Kefauver Committee interviewed the sixty-two-year-old DiGiovanni in the summer of 1950. At that time, he and his brother Peter ran a wholesale liquor distributorship affiliated with the Seagram's company. DiGiovanni denied any knowledge of the Mafia. He denied ever even hearing of the word "Mafia." He insisted that he had never been arrested or questioned by police.

Peter DiGiovanni, then sixty-four (born June 28, 1886), also appeared before the Kefauver Committee. He acknowledged being arrested repeatedly for bootlegging during the Prohibition Era. He said he was never convicted.

The Kefauver Committee concluded that Joseph DiGiovanni and James Balestrere still served as the top men in the Kansas City underworld.

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