Balistrieri, Frank P. (1918-1993)

b. Milwaukee, May 27, 1918.
d. Milwaukee, Feb. 7, 1993.

Frank Peter Balistrieri was the best known of Milwaukee's Mafia bosses and the most targeted by law enforcement.

Balistrieri was also the first local Mafia boss who was born in the United States. He was born in Milwaukee in 1918, the son of immigrant Mafiosi Joseph Balistrieri of the Town of Aspra near Santa Flavia, Sicily. He grew up in the city's Third Ward "Little Sicily" neighborhood around the intersection of Jefferson and Detroit Streets. (Detroit Street was later renamed St. Paul Avenue.)

FBI heard conflicting reports about Balistrieri's selection as boss. Some said that Alioto had trained him for the post through years and handed him the reins in December 1961 or January 1962. Others said that Alioto went into retirement at that time opposed to the idea of Balistrieri becoming boss, preferring someone older and more experienced. (FBI heard that Alioto was angered by a Balistrieri romantic relationship outside of his marriage to Alioto's daughter.)

As Balistrieri advanced in the local Mafia, he opened night clubs and gambling spots and attempted to monopolize jukeboxes and coin-operated vending machines. The success of one of his gambling ventures brought him into conflict with boss Sam Ferrara in 1952. Ferrara wanted a piece of the Balistrieri-run Ogden Social Club gambling hall. When Balistrieri resisted, Ferrara ousted him from the crime family.

Balistrieri's father-in-law John Alioto, a capodecina in the Milwaukee organization, brought a protest to the leaders of the Chicago Outfit. Since the establishment of the Mafia's Commission system in the early 1930s, Chicago had been responsible for overseeing Milwaukee. Outfit bosses ruled that Ferrara exceeded his authority and ordered him to step down. The Outfit then installed Alioto as the new boss.

Alioto reportedly groomed Balistrieri as his successor but seems to have had second thoughts as he retired in 1961-62. Alioto was upset by a Balistrieri romantic relationship outside of his marriage to Alioto's daughter. The break between the two men became so severe that Alioto did not attend the funeral of Balistrieri's father in 1971.

As boss, Balistrieri sought to increase the crime family's wealth and influence by assessing a street tax on gambling racketeers and a number of legitimate businesses. He brought in Joseph Gurera and Buster Balestrere from Kansas City (the Balistrieris of Milwaukee and the Balestreres of Kansas City are related) to enforce that protection racket.

He angered segments of his organization by elevating the newcomer Gurera to capodecina rank, as well as by doing away with the "sagia," a leadership panel used by Alioto for dispute resolution, and by acting in an autocratic manner. Balistrieri was protected against rebellion through his close relationship with Chicago Outfit leaders, particularly Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio.

He could not protect himself against the U.S. government, however. In the late 1960s, he was sentenced to two years in federal prison for tax evasion. In the 1980s, his participation in extortion and Las Vegas casino skimming rackets were exposed. In 1984, he was sentenced to thirteen more years in federal prison. (His sons, Joseph P. and John J. Balistrieri, were also convicted of extortion and served time in federal prison.) During this imprisonment, Balistrieri's brother Peter stood in for him as acting boss.

Frank Balistrieri was released from federal prison at Butner, North Carolina, in 1991. He died of a heart attack in 1993.

  • "Balistrieri given 13 years," Oshkosh WI Northwestern, May 30, 1984, p. 3.
  • "Balistrieri goes to grave denying being mob boss," Fond du Lac Commonwealth Reporter, Feb. 8, 1993, p. 2.
  • "Feds clean up union," Oshkosh WI Northwestern, Aug. 25, 1996, p. 15.
  • "Genealogy search," Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries,
  • Joseph Balistrieri Naturalization Petition, U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Wisconsin, Vol. 111, No. 15152, certificate no. 5199880, filed May 20, 1941, approved July 17, 1941.
  • Le Grand, Alexander P., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-640, NARA no. 124-10287-10189, May 28, 1964.
  • Reed, Carlyle N., "La Cosa Nostra," FBI report, file no. 92-6054-2105, NARA no. 124-10293-10341, Sept. 11, 1967.
  • Schmitt, Gavin, Milwaukee Mafia: Images of America, Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2012.
  • Schmitt, Gavin, The Milwaukee Mafia, Fort Lee NJ: Barricade Books, 2014
  • Social Security Death Index, 388-18-0128, died Feb. 7, 1993.
  • United States Census of 1920, Wisconsin, County of Milwaukee, City of Milwaukee, Enumeration District 42.

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