Trafficante, Santo Jr. (1914-1987)

Born Tampa, FL, Nov. 15, 1914.
Died Houston, TX, March 17, 1987.

Santo Trafficante, Jr., the son of an early Tampa, Florida, Mafia boss, was raised in local organized crime and became boss upon the death of his father. He is known for his close ties to New York underworld bosses and for his management of Cuban casinos, and is frequently mentioned in Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories.

Born in Tampa, to Santo Sr. and Maria Giuseppa (Josephine) Cacciatore Trafficante, Santo Jr. grew up in a large Italian family on North Boulevard in Tampa, just outside the traditional boundaries of the immigrant neighborhood known as Ybor City. The 1930 U.S. Census shows him at age 14 as the second of five sons. His brothers were Frank, Sam, Fano and Henry. Santo Jr. attended Hillsborough County public schools but left school in the tenth grade.

By the next U.S. Census, twenty-five-year-old Santo had started his own family. He, wife Josephine Marchese Trafficante and their five-month-old daughter Mary Jo resided at 3105 Eighteenth Street in Tampa. Santo and Josephine married in April 1938. For the census, Santo reported his occupation as clerk for a retail grocery, but he was likely working with his father in underworld rackets by then. A major income source for the Tampa Mafia was a lottery-style gambling racket, known as bolita. A few years later, another daughter, Sarah, was born into the family.

Following World War II, Trafficante began making trips to Havana, Cuba. He was well established with authorities there when U.S. underworld figures began funneling money into gambling facilities and narcotics smuggling rackets on the island of Cuba.

The passing of underworld authority from the late Santo Sr. to Santo Jr. was not acceptable to a local Mafia faction supportive of the Italiano family. At attempt was made on Santo Jr.'s life in 1953 - a shotgun blast fired at his car succeeded only in wounding his arm.

When Santo Sr. died the next year, Antonio Italiano and Dominic Ferrara reportedly went to New York Mafia bosses to complain about the succession. Trafficante business connections with New York were already strong and lucrative, however. The new Tampa boss reportedly had solid support from the Luciano-Costello (later Genovese), Lucchese and Bonanno organizations, as well as Meyer Lansky. The Italiano faction's complaint was ignored and Antonio Italiano and Dominic Ferrara were never seen again.

In that year, Santo Jr. and his brother Henry were convicted of bribing a St. Petersburg detective and sentenced to five years in prison. The trial judge called the Trafficantes, "a couple of rats [who] crept out of the sewer." The conviction was later overturned, but Henry was eventually imprisoned on bribery and gambling convictions.

As the Mafia invested heavily in Cuban casinos under the regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista, Santo Jr. spent much of his time in an apartment in the affluent Vedado neighborhood of Havana. He reportedly managed investments of the U.S. underworld in gambling ventures and is widely believed to have organized international narcotics trafficking through the island nation.

Trafficante was visiting New York City at the time of the 1957 murder of crime boss Albert Anastasia. Anastasia was believed to be trying to create a separate gambling empire for his Mafia family in Cuba. Trafficante was also noted at the Mafia convention in Apalachin, New York, later in that year.

American authorities linked Trafficante with gambling at Cuba's Sans Souci nightclub, the Hotel Comodoro Casino and the Hotel Deauville Casino. He is known to have worked closely with Jake Lansky, brother of underworld financier Meyer Lansky, and with Dino Cellini.

Mafia investments and the trust of underworld allies in Trafficante's management were imperiled when the Batista government was toppled. Trafficante was unable to make arrangements with the regime of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro after 1959.

Trafficante and associates Jake Lansky and Dino Cellini were arrested by Cuban authorities in the late spring of 1959. Lansky and Cellini were quickly released, but Trafficante, perceived as being especially close to Batista brother-in-law Roberto Fernandez Miranda, was held at Triscornia detention facility until August. Compelled by Cuban officials to sell his interests in gambling facilities, Trafficante attempted for months to retain secret control of them. He returned to Florida in January 1960.

Trafficante and other Mafia leaders worked with American intelligence agencies to plot the overthrow or assassination of Castro. Castro survived that conspiracy, and some believe he succeeded in turning it to his own advantage. Trafficante is among the underworld bosses regularly named by conspiracy theorists as an organizer of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

Trafficante vehemently denied any involvement in the Kennedy assassination. However, statements made by Trafficante during 1962-63 seemed to predict that killing.

In 1966, during a trip to New York, Trafficante was arrested along with a dozen other suspected Mafiosi at an Italian restaurant in Queens. Police dubbed the gathering, "a little Apalachin."

When Tampa detective Richard Cloud was shot to death at the front door of his north Tampa home, Trafficante was suspected of involvement. Authorities hoped that imprisoned underworld figure Victor Acosta would help link the murder to Trafficante, but Acosta suddenly died in his prison cell of an overdose of tranquilizers. The death was said to be a suicide.

Trafficante was called to testify before Kennedy assassination investigators in the late 1970s. At that time, he acknowledged that the CIA had approached him about deposing or killing Fidel Castro. Chicago Outfit leaders Sam Giancana and John Rosselli also had discussions with the CIA. Giancana and Rosselli were both killed in 1975.

In 1986, Trafficante was unsuccessfully tried by federal prosecutors for racketeering and conspiracy. The following year, he was to be tried on a 1981 indictment charging him with taking kickbacks from the International Laborers Union dental and eye health care plans. He died, following a triple-bypass operation at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, before he could stand trial.

See also:


  • Air Passenger Manifest, Pan American World Airways, NC-34948, departed Havana, Cuba, arrived Miami, Florida, July 25, 1946.
  • Air Passenger Manifest, Pan American Airways, NC-45375, departed Havana, Cuba, arrived Miami, Florida, June 17, 1948.
  • Arrival-Departure Record, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Miami, Florida, Jan. 27, 1960.
  • Florida State Census of 1935, Hillsborough County, Precinct 17.
  • Florida State Census of 1945, Hillsborough County, Precinct 22.
  • SAC Miami, "Santo Trafficante, Jr.," FBI airtel, file no. 92-2781-104, June 17, 1959.
  • Santo Trafficante, Jr., World War II draft registration card, 1942.
  • "Santo Trafficante, Jr.," Find A Grave,, June 11, 2010.
  • Social Security Death Index.
  • United States Census of 1930, Florida, Hillsborough County, Ward 6, Election Precinct 17, Enumeration District 29-48.
  • United States Census of 1940, Florida, Hillsborough County, Ward 9, Precinct 17, Enumeration District 70-73.
  • "Trafficante gets order," New York Times, April 15, 1967, p. 16.
  • "Underworld figure refuses to talk before a House assassination panel," New York Times, March 17, 1977, p. 23.
  • Harris, Kathryn, "Santo Trafficante Jr." A Tampa son who made the bigtime with the bad guys," St. Petersburg Times, April 27, 1977, p. 53.
  • "16 indicted over union fund use," New York Times, June 5, 1981.
  • "15 deny racketeering charges," New York Times, June 20, 1981.
  • "Judge declares mistrial in Florida crime case," New York Times, July 10, 1986.
  • Leusner, Jim, and Tom Scherberger, "Florida's reputed don, Santo Trafficante, dies," Orlando Sentinel, March 19, 1987, p. 1.
  • Roy, Roger, "He never spent a night in U.S. jail," Orlando Sentinel, March 19, 1987, p. 4.
  • "Santo Trafficante, reputed Mafia chief, dies at 72," New York Times, March 19, 1987.