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New Book Highlights Bronx's Pivotal Role in New York Mob History

By Eddie Small | July 6, 2015 3:45pm
 Anthony M. DeStefano's new book "Gangland New York" details the history of the mafia in New York City.
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THE BRONX — The notorious Five Families of the New York mafia got started thanks to a meeting in Belmont most likely on Washington Avenue near 187th Street, according to a new book about famous locations in organized crime history.

Mob boss Salvatore Maranzano set up the fabled meeting in the wake of the "Castellammarese War," a violent power struggle between factions of the mafia led by Maranzano against rival boss Joseph Masseria, according to "Gangland New York," a book by organized crime expert Anthony M. DeStefano about New York's mob landmarks.

The feud ultimately led to Masseria's death on April 15, 1931 inside the Nuova Villa Tammora restaurant in Coney Island, but the aftermath lead to the organization of the modern mob.

Maranzano called the meeting of mafia members soon after Masseria's death, where he stressed that the feuds and deaths of the Castellammarese War had to be forgotten if the mafia was to move forward safely and successfully.

"That was at a social hall or banquet hall in The Bronx, which from the best information we can place was at Washington Avenue and about 187th Street," DeStefano said. "And it was one of these meetings where Maranzano sort of appointed himself the boss, and then he had the sub-bosses, like five sub-bosses that he picked."

Maranzano named himself "capo di tutti i capi," Italian for "boss of all bosses," and divided the rest of the mob into families led by his hand-picked men: Charles Luciano, Gaetano "Tom" Gagliano, Vincent Mangano and Joseph Bonanno.

Despite the storied nature of the meeting hall, it has since been lost to history, according to "Gangland New York," which was released in paperback on July 1.

"While Philadelphia has its Independence Hall as a place to commemorate the founding of the United States, the old hall where the modern New York Mob was born has — as far as anyone can tell — disappeared," DeStefano wrote.

The Bronx has also been home to several notable mafia deaths, including that of Gaetano Reina, who lived in the borough during the early 20th century and helped run a lucrative ice cartel.

"They would carve up the territory of who would sell to where and who would sell to whom," DeStefano said, "and this was a pretty wide city racket."

Reina was part of Masseria's operation, but this connection did not keep him particularly safe, as he was gunned down on Feb. 26, 1930 while leaving his girlfriend's apartment at 1521 Sheridan Ave. in Claremont.

"Instead of keeping his men happy, Masseria treated them with treachery," DeStefano wrote. "Apparently, Masseria wanted Reina to give up some of his ice-racket profits."

In more recent years, The Bronx has seen two murders connected with New York's Bonanno crime family: Gerlando "George from Canada" Sciascia and Frank Santoro.

Sciascia ran activities for the Bonanno family's Canadian wing in the late 1990s but ran afoul of boss Joseph Massino, who testified in 2011 that he ordered Sciascia killed because he had murdered the son of a made Mafia member, according to DeStefano's book. On March 18, 1999, his body was found on Boller Avenue in Eastchester.

"Massino wanted Sciascia killed in such a way that it would appear the murder took place over a drug deal," DeStefano wrote. "Sciascia's body was to be dumped in the street."

Santoro, described in the book as a man "who was constantly getting into legal trouble and had developed a nasty drug habit," got in hot water with the family in 2001 after Bonanno captain Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano found out that he had come up with the idea to try kidnapping one of Basciano's sons.

On Feb. 15, 2001, Santoro went out to walk his pet Doberman pinscher and got shot just yards away from his home in Throgs Neck. Basciano was convicted of engineering his killing in 2006, according to "Gangland New York."

The Bronx was a fairly common place for Mafiosi to call home earlier in the 20th century, as it offered them a chance to keep a slightly lower profile and was much more rural and suburban than it is now, DeStefano said.

"You could get a nice home fairly cheaply," he said, "and also, there was an up-and-coming Italian-American community there. You had friends from the old country in the area."

"It was their home base," he added. "They could go all over the city, but it was their home base."