Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Mafia's Ties to Wisconsin Cheese

In March of 1980, after a two year investigation, the Pennsylvania Crime Commission released a Report of the Study of Organized Crime’s Infiltration of the Pizza and Cheese Industry. Wisconsin’s Grande Cheese Co of Fond du Lac was referenced several times.

Grande Cheese Co., mentioned in the body of the report in reference to Joseph Bonanno, Roma Foods and the Falcone Brothers, was born out of a Chicago gang war in 1939. During the first few years of its operation, at least five men, including the owner, were killed. Chicago crime boss Ross Prio eventually gained control of the company. Over the years Grande has been owned by or associated with numerous organized crime figures.

In the 1950's the ownership of Grande Cheese passed from Ross Prio to the DiBella family, John and his sister, Rose. John DiBella became corporate President in 1959. John had ties
to Milwaukee crime boss John Alioto, who was Frank Balistrieri’s father-in-law. John Alioto was the Milwaukee mob boss from 1952 until 1961 when he handed over control to his son-in-law, Frank Balistrieri. DiBella’s sister Rose took over her brother's stock after his death in 1964, and later sold her interest to the Candela and Gaglio families. The Gaglio family owned Ontario Importing, founded by the family patriarch, Vito Gaglio, in the mid-1960's.

The actual control of the cheese and pizza business began with no less a figure than Joseph Bonanno, Sr. Bonanno, living at that time in Tucson, Arizona, was regarded as one of the most powerful leaders of Organized Crime in America. Bonanno initiated a conspiracy to control the specialty cheese business in the United States in the early 1940's and even in 1980, he and his associates controlled the activities of some of the largest and most prosperous specialty cheese companies. Bonanno had direct ties to Grande Cheese of Wisconsin; through it to Grande's exclusive distributor in the Pennsylvania area, Roma Foods of South Plainfield, New Jersey; and through the distributor to hundreds of retail pizza shops which were financed and controlled by the organization in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The Falcone brothers of Brooklyn, New York--formerly associated with Bonanno-tied Grande Cheese and partners with a Grande officer in other Wisconsin cheese companies--built and operated for a decade a network of fraudulent "paper companies" designed to produce millions of dollars for the Falcones only to collapse financially when challenged by claims of their legitimate business victims.

The Pennsylvania Crime Commission investigation had determined that the Falcones and Thomas Gambino drove another company into bankruptcy in 1976. In December of 1975, the
Falcones and Gambino bought 70% of the stock of the previously family-owned Badger State' Cheese Company in Luxemburg, Wisconsin. Eight months later, Badger State Cheese collapsed in disarray with $1.3-million in debts. The Falcones and Gambino had taken over Badger and arranged that Capitol Cheese of Brooklyn, New York be the major customer and distributor for Badger. Capitol Cheese of Brooklyn was operated by Joseph and Thomas Gambino. Joseph Gambino was a leader in the Carlo Gambino crime organization.
Capitol Cheese directed delivery of Badger State cheese to Capitol's customers, collected payment from the customers, and then the cash disappeared. When Capitol Cheese owed Badger State Cheese $560,000, Badger State closed down and the Wisconsin State Department of Agriculture placed the company in trusteeship. Capitol Cheese, the Gambino business in Brooklyn, afterward, went out of business.

Also involved in the Crime Commission Investigation:
F & A CHEESE of Grand Rapids, Michigan, owned by Francesco and Angelo Terranova. The Company was started with a loan from the uncle of the Terranovas, John DiBella of Grande Cheese. F & A Cheese had another office in Upland, California. Raffael Quasarano, a
member of the Joseph Zerilli criminal organization of Detroit, and Peter Vitale were indicted by a federal grand jury in Detroit in November, 1979 for allegedly extorting $270,000 from the Terranovas. They were also charged with mail fraud, tax fraud and racketeering. According to the indictment Quasarano and Vitale used "fear of economic loss" and threats of "force and violence" to gain control of an F & A subsidiary, Rogersville Cheese Factory, Inc. in Wisconsin.

According to a report printed in the Milwaukee Sentinel on Aug. 7, 1980, the owner of a Wisconsin cheese factory (Rodgersville Cheese Factory) allegedly taken over by organized crime bosses from Detroit was told by either Quasarano or Vitale in 1974, “The big fish is swallowing the little fish, and you're lucky your legs aren't broken, according to Federal Court testimony that day. Both eventually pled guilty and were sentenced to prison terms of four years each in 1981.,1039249

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Wisconsin Shootout with the Dillinger Gang

Little Bohemia Lodge as it looked at the time of
Dillinger's escape  
Each September my wife and I go back to Wisconsin for vacation. While there, we attend a motorcycle rally in Tomahawk, Wisconsin and have a great time. About 60 miles north of Tomahawk is Manitowish Waters, where the Little Bohemia Lodge is located. 

We took a ride up there a couple weeks ago. The lodge is most famous as scene of a gunfight between John Dillinger and his gang, and Melvin Purvis and the FBI in 1934Little Bohemia remains operational today as a restaurant and gathering place. The Lodge is open year round, seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

A historic display of artifacts and memorabilia from the Dillinger gun battle is available for public viewing along with recent memorabilia and autographs from the filming of Public Enemies. For $5 per person you can take a self guided tour of the upstairs bedrooms where the Dillinger gang were at the start of the gun battle. Numerous bullet holes are still in the walls and ceilings from the FBI firing what must have been machine guns from the outside. Bullets actually fractured part of the bathroom sink which fell off onto the floor. It was pretty neat. In the summer of 2008, some scenes from the Michael Mann film Public Enemies were filmed on location at Little Bohemia. The movie starred Johnny Depp and Christian Bale and is still widely available. They also have a great menu with good food, as a few people we were with decided to try out the restaurant.
Bullet holes through walls in bedroom.

The following account is from Wikipedia, links provided:
Little Bohemia Lodge is a small lodge located in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. The Lodge was built in 1927, suffered a fire in 1928, and was rebuilt in 1930. The historic Lodge remains as it was at the time of the FBI siege in 1934 and has a collection of memorabilia and damage from the gun fight, including the original bullet holes in the walls and windows. The Lodge is located on US Highway 51 in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin on Little Star Lake, on the Manitowish Chain O Lakes.
Bathroom sink fractured from bullets.

On April 20, 1934, John Dillinger's gang, consisting of Dillinger, Baby Face NelsonHomer Van MeterTommy Carroll, and John "Red" Hamilton, settled at Little Bohemia Lodge, then owned by Emil Wanatka. The gang assured the owners that they would give no trouble, but the gang monitored the owners whenever they left or spoke on the phone. Emil's wife Nan and her brother managed to evade Baby Face Nelson, who was tailing them, and mailed a letter of warning to the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago, which later contacted the FBI. Days later, a score of FBI agents led by Hugh Clegg and Melvin Purvis approached the lodge in the early morning hours of April 23. Two barking watchdogs announced their arrival, but the gang was so used to Nan Wanatka's dogs that they did not bother to inspect the disturbance. It was only when the FBI mistakenly shot a local resident, John Hoffman, and two innocent Civilian Conservation Corps workers, John Morris and Eugene Boisneau, as they drove away that the gang was alerted. (Hoffman was wounded, and Boisneau was killed.) The gangsters inside grabbed their weapons and prepared to jump from a second floor window in the back. A group of agents led by Inspector William Rorer rounded that side and opened fire, but were forced to take cover when Dillinger fired on them.
Bullet holes still in balcony.
As the agents ducked to avoid return fire, Dillinger, Van Meter, Carroll and Hamilton each jumped one at a time from the second floor onto a frozen mound of snow behind the lodge. They then ran down some wooden steps to the beach and ran west along Little Star Lake, unnoticed by Inspector Rorer, who could not see them because of an eight foot incline that obstructed his view. In the woods, Carroll became separated from the rest of the group. He made his way to Manitowish Waters and stole a car, and made it to St. Paul uneventfully. Van Meter attempted to flag down a car driven by Nan Wanatka's brother George LaPorte, who was following an ambulance from the work camp to Little Bohemia, but did not stop. They spotted another lodge a short distance away, Mitchell's Rest Lake Resort. The owner, Edward Mitchell, was tending to his sick wife when Dillinger, Van Meter and Hamilton walked in. Hamilton yanked the phone off the hook after asking for a glass of water, while Dillinger put a blanket over Mitchell's wife and asked for a car. The three ended up taking a car driven by Mitchell's carpenter.
Meanwhile, Nelson, who had been packing in the cottage, had fired at Purvis and fled southeast along Little Star Lodge. He took a couple, the Langes, hostage and made them drive him. He then took local switchboard operator Alvin Koerner hostage. Emil Wanatka, who had stopped by, was also taken hostage. At that point, three federal agents, W. Carter Baum, Jay Newman, and Constable Carl Christiansen, arrived from Little Bohemia, acting on a tip about the car that Carroll had stolen in town. Nelson surprised the agents and shot them. First to be shot was Baum, who was shot three times in the neck and killed instantly. Newman was hit once in the head, but was only dazed. Christiansen was critically wounded, shot five times in the midsection. After shooting at Wanatka, Nelson stole the FBI car and escaped as Newman fired at him.