Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Beef That Didn't Moo - Wisconsin Ties to the New York Mob!

Tummy Ache Merchants linked to the Bonanno Mob Family of New York! 
This is almost an unbelievable story and enough to turn your stomach! If you've ever had any sympathy for the American Mafia and their way of life, consider this great American meat scandal from the early 60’s.

Wisconsin is home to a huge dairy industry. One of the problems dairy farmers have always had, is what to do with old, sick and sometimes already dead cows, known in the trade as “downers” (because they literally drop down in the fields).
Mink ranchers need a constant supply of low grade meat, as minks are carnivorous and if not kept well fed, will start to eat each other. This is not good for the mink ranchers bottom line, and that meshes perfectly with the dairy farmer’s problem. Wherever there are a large number of dairy farms in an area, there tend to be mink ranches. And with a lot of mink ranches, you have businesses specializing in processing “downers” for mink food.
If you’ve never been to a rendering plant (I have), it’s a nasty place where dead cattle, horses and other animals (as well as mink carcasses after skinning) are processed (stink and stench with millions, if not billions of flies!). These animals can be used in any number of ways, being turned into soap, animal feed or pet food, as well as raw, boned, meat for carnivores like mink or zoo animals. The New York Mob boys back east, with their control and influence over the meat packing industry also found a use for this “stinger” meat. They “arranged” for  processors on the east coast to buy it and grind up with good beef to mix in with their sausages, hamburgers and processed meats!
In 1964, a federal meat inspector walked into a meat warehouse in Ohio and almost keeled over from the smell! He opened a box of meat and handled it, later saying that he couldn’t get the smell off his hands for two weeks. The meat was traced to a plant in Wisconsin that was licensed to process animal food for mink ranches and zoos.
Problem was, not only were they selling their product to local mink farmers, but also to Charles Anselmo, who was an associate of one of New York’s notorious Mafia families, the Bonannos. Mr. Anselmo was then re-selling this “product” to mob controlled meat processing companies back east. Anselmo knew - as the Wisconsin processor(s) must have known, that they were feeding people, not minks. The meat was being held over in warehouses en route east, often treated with formaldehyde to get rid of the stench and discoloration, then repackaged for human use. Formaldehyde is the chemical that morticians use to preserve human bodies, also used as an insecticide, fungicide and general disinfectant. Eating can make you sick, but, toxicologists say, it won’t kill you in small doses - unless you have a heart condition, in which case it can kill you! The Mob certainly wouldn't forgo a lucrative business just because a few people have heart conditions.
Detectives located one of the Wisconsin dealers by grabbing a truck driver (Joseph Hasenberg of Jim Falls, Wi) who hauled the meat east from Wisconsin. The driver was offered a deal if he would help collect evidence against the mink food supplier, Orland “Buster” Lea of Alma Center, Wi, who had a firm called Lea Brothers and was secretary treasurer of the LaCrosse Rendering Corp. Thomas C. Barr, 49, of Cameron, Wis., owner of the Tom Ban Meat Ranch hauled meat for Lea.
Hasenberg, the trucker, earned his escape from prosecution by steering Lea into several tacit admissions, while wearing a wire. Lea knew that the meat was going to New Jersey and that the deals were handled with haste, surreptition and cash. There were no bills of lading and he knew that higher than standard trucking rates were charged. Lea admitted to having met Charles Anselmo (associate of the New York Bonanno crime family), bringing him sixty animal skins from Wisconsin as a present because Anselmo had said he wanted a fur coat for his wife.
Where's the beef?
The other major supplier for “stinger” meat was Dominick Gerace of Utica, NY, where in a surprise raid at his business turned up horse meat, sub-par beef and counterfeit U.S. Department of Agriculture stamps.
Whatever “dirty” meat came in to New York was mixed in with good meat and sold to not only supermarkets, but other customers including the New York City school system, state hospitals and prisons, the Army, the Air Force, restaurants and hotels. In fact, if you happened to attend the New York World's Fair in 1964 and bought a hamburger or cheeseburger, you just may have sampled their product! What’s really disgusting is that several meat company executives were getting increasingly concerned about getting caught with horse meat in their products. Diseased beef, which might cause serious illness or even kill people, was a nuisance they could handle. But horse meat would capture the public’s attention, and bad publicity could kill the business. Nat Lokietz, an executive of the Merkel Co, overheard in a wiretap, was trying to persuade Charles Anselmo not to send any more horse meat.  Anselmo would not be specific to the question of whether the next shipment contained horse. In frustration, Lokietz finally posed the question this way: “Does it moo?” “Well”, said Anselmo, “some of it moos and some of it don’t moo”.
Another disturbing side to this story, due to legal maneuvering, New York corruption and mob influence, most of those convicted in this scandal literally got a slap on the wrist with very minimal sentences and probation. Most of these criminals were right back in the same industry within a year or two. “Buster” Lea and Thomas Barr pleaded guilty with Lea being sentenced to six months, serving five. Barr served one month and both stayed on probation for two years. Both remained in their respective businesses. Three federal meat inspectors were also indicted. Not one of them was convicted, although it sure seems to me, the evidence against them was overwhelming! The book goes into great detail of what evidence was obtained and how the indictments came down.
The kingpin of the operation, Charles Anselmo (Bonanno mob associate)  received an 18 month sentence, of which he served four and a half months! Never mind that he risked mass poisoning for profit. He was scarcely out of prison before he had set up a new meat brokerage in the Fourteenth Street market called the Kaylo Trading Company. Ahh, the sweet life of a New York Mobster! What are you going to think about the next time you have a bite of fresh kielbasa? Next in this series, stay tuned: The Mob in the Wisconsin cheese business!
Credit to and recommended read:
Vicious Circles by Jonathan Kwitny
A very good book, written in the late 1970’s that goes into much more detail than what is posted here, well researched with a wealth of information, over 400 pages and a very fascinating read.

Other of my related Mafia posts links:

The Beef That Didn't Moo - Wisconsin Ties to the Mob
Tales of the Milwaukee Mob and Two Cigarette Men!
Married to the Daughter of a Milwaukee Mob Boss-Our Pediatrician!
The Milwaukee Queen Bee of Organized Crime
Tale of a Failed Milwaukee Mob Hit!
Lieutenant Uhura (of the Starship "Enterprise") - close encounters with the Chicago and Milwaukee Mob!
Part Two: The Milwaukee Mob and Lieutenant Uhura (Star Trek)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Married to the Daughter of a Milwaukee Mob Boss - Our Pediatrician!

composite photo by pat migliaccio
I sometimes wonder how many good and decent Italian Americans were affected by the vast criminal mafia network in this country. The history of the American Mafia is fascinating to me, as I have tried to learn about it over the past couple of decades. After finding out many years later that some of the people I dealt with back in Milwaukee were connected (see “Related Posts” links below), I have been doing a lot of research.
Being a franchised gas station operator back in 1970’s Milwaukee, I decided to start up a side business making and selling ice wholesale, installing freezers at various businesses and selling the owners ice to retail to the public. Thank God, it wasn't a vending business, as I had no idea at that time, it was tightly controlled by Frank P. Balistrieri, who happened to be the leader of the Milwaukee Mob! In 1978, the FBI sent in an undercover agent by the name of Gail T. Cobb to set up a fake vending business, was being tailed and very nearly killed by a couple of Balistrieri's thugs. He was a ruthless and disgusting man and I have no sympathy for mobsters in the least. But we all have family, and if some of your family is connected, it can’t help but affect you in many negative ways, whether you participated, tried to ignore, or were just aware of.

After getting Gavin Schmitt’s new book a few weeks agoMilwaukee Mafia (Images of America), I sat down to read it. I had been eagerly awaiting the release of the book for months and had pre-ordered it. The book contains about 125 pages of fascinating photos from back in the mob days that really bring out the rich history of Milwaukee. I highly recommend it.
As I was reading through and looking at the photos, I came across a familiar name that caught my eye. That name was “Dr. Joseph E. Vaccaro” as I looked at a caption of a photo from the early 50’s. Looking more closely at the picture, I couldn't believe my eyes. The man looked so familiar and I realized I was looking at a photo of our old pediatrician from back in Milwaukee! I was born in 1952 and this was the doctor who made house calls to our home when my younger brother and I were sick! I thought  “this guy was a doctor and what the heck is he doing in a book about the Milwaukee Mafia?”.

Dr. Vaccaro was the pediatrician for all of my brothers and sisters and my parents used him all the through the 50’s and into the 70’s! Of course after the first few years, it became impractical for a Doctor to make house calls and my parents would take the kids to his office. What follows is what I have been able to piece together from more research the last few weeks:

After getting his medical degree in 1940, Joseph started his practice as a pediatrician. In 1947, it was announced in the Milwaukee Journal that he was engaged to a Carmen Migliaccio. Carmen just happened to be the daughter of a high ranking Milwaukee mob member by the name of Pasquale Migliaccio. Migliaccio and Joseph Vallone were immigrants from the same small village of Prizzi, Sicily.

milwaukee mafia 'images of america"
  • Together, they formed a business, Migliaccio & Vallone Wholesale Grocers on N. Broadway in Milwaukee. Migliaccio (back row, far left in the picture) was Dr. Vaccaro’s father-in-law.
  • Migliaccio's business partner, Vallone, ran the Milwaukee mob from 1927 to 1949.
  • Notorious mobster Nick Fucarino, who had a lengthy arrest record, was employed by Migliaccio & Vallone.
  • Salvatore Ferrara (front row, far left in the picture) was the Milwaukee mafia boss from 1949 to 1952. The Chicago “Outfit” forced him to step down in ‘52 and John Alioto then replaced him as the Milwaukee "Godfather".
  • Dr. Vito Guardalabene (back row, far right in the picture) was the grandson of Vito Guardalabene, who was the mob boss in Milwaukee from 1918 to 1921.
  • “Chico’s Bar-B-Q" (the restaurant they are at) was owned by Frank La Galbo, well known by police and the FBI as an active mobster, once having beaten a murder rap, the reason being "lack of evidence".
  • The dinner was in celebration of Rocky Graziano’s boxing victory (that is Graziano sitting front row, third from left in the picture)!
  • Dr. Joseph E. Vaccaro (back row, second from left in the picture) our family's pediatrician, standing next to Pasquale Migliaccio, his father-in-law!

Seems to me that Dr. Vaccaro married a troubled woman and they were separated at least three times before going through a very nasty and public divorce in 1956. Dr. Vaccaro claimed that his wife was bad tempered, abusive and was always accusing him of affairs. In a complex situation, there were three lawsuits going on at the same time. Vaccaro counter-sued his wife, mobster father-in-law and his nurse for $100,000 claiming that they were trying to extort money from him. Eventually, Carmen was granted a divorce,  getting the house, a car and alimony from Vaccaro.
During the trial a woman was accused of trying to tamper with the jury. One witness claimed that she had been seen at Como’s, a restaurant that Migliaccio owned at the time! The judge demanded that she step up to the bench for questioning and she fled the courtroom, getting away.
Also, during a break in the settlement hearing, Dr. Vaccaro walked up to Migliaccio in the hallway, extending his hand to shake. Pasquale yelled something to him and punched him in the face. Vaccaro declined to press charges. (Don’t think I would either!)
There are court records from the mid 70’s indicating that Dr. Vaccaro and Carmen were still fighting over the divorce settlement.
Born in 1916, Dr. Joseph E. Vaccaro died in 2001 at the age of 85 at his home in Fountain Hills, Az. (presumably of natural causes!)
More interesting bits and facts: 
  • Migliaccio kept a low profile and I can find no record of any arrest, but he was certainly connected to the mob. The FBI believed he was a high ranking member.
  • In 1944, Migliaccio & Vallone Wholesale Grocers were sued by the Office of Price Administration for overcharging on sugar and processed foods.
  • Frank La Galbo, owner of Chico's Bar-B-Q, lived in constant fear for his life. He would never enter his restaurant from the street, always going in and out through a back door. He had a cottage in Peshitgo, Wi that was described as a fortress, with dogs patrolling the property, surrounded by an electrified fence. La Galbo died in 1976 at the age of 68 of a gunshot to the head, "as he was getting into his car in the driveway!". The DA ruled it a suicide.
  • Dr.Vito Guardalabene's (seen in the picture) father and grandfather both ruled the Milwaukee mob at different times.
  • Pasquale Migliaccio died in 1961 at the age of 74.
  • At some point after the divorce, Carmen remarried and took the last name of Sehulster.

Credit and thanks to:
Gavin Schmitt, his new book, Milwaukee Mafia "Images of America", available at Barnes & Noble.
The Framing Business - Rise of the Milwaukee Mafia, 1892-1961
Archives of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

You can read more of my mob related posts by clicking the links below:

The Beef That Didn't Moo - Wisconsin Ties to the Mob
Tales of the Milwaukee Mob and Two Cigarette Men!
Married to the Daughter of a Milwaukee Mob Boss-Our Pediatrician!
The Milwaukee Queen Bee of Organized Crime
Tale of a Failed Milwaukee Mob Hit!
Lieutenant Uhura (of the Starship "Enterprise") - close encounters with the Chicago and Milwaukee Mob!
Part Two: The Milwaukee Mob and Lieutenant Uhura (Star Trek)

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