The Mob 

A Drive-By Historical Tour of Tampa's Notorious Wise Guys

Tampa has had an interesting mob history. Most elected officials deny its existence, and many of the key players have avoided brushes with the law and ensuing notoriety. None of the big bosses ever spent a night in jail, although some did leave this earth in a gruesome manner.

Most immigrants to the Tampa Bay area have no idea of Tampa's colorful gangland tapestry. So here's a guide, for residents new and old, of wise guys' hangouts and to venues where many made men were unmade.

The story begins with Charlie Dean of the Underworld Wall, the dashing son of a prominent doctor and socialite. For the first part of the 20th century, Wall ran everything from illegal gambling to narcotics. He employed Anglos, Cubans, Italians and Spaniards in his organization. Wall held court in Ybor City and dispensed justice to those who crossed him, along with gold coins to neighborhood children.

By the mid 1940s, however, Wall was forced to concede his territory to the Mafia, run by a Sicilian immigrant by the name of Santo Trafficante Sr. Although the media and many law enforcement officials look to Salvatore Red Italiano and James Lumia as the early bosses of the crime family, Santo Sr. actually ran things from behind the scenes, sheltering himself from scrutiny.

Not that law enforcement was much of a problem with political fixers like Jimmy Velasco and Joe Baby Joe Diez on the job. They bought, bribed and partnered up with everyone from beat cops to the sheriff, city councilmen to the mayor. Tampa's infamous history of corruption is rooted in mob payoffs and political patronage for gangsters.

Tampa also saw its share of hits. From 1928 to 1959, more than 25 gangland figures and a few innocent bystanders were gunned down in what would come to be called the Era of Blood. This was initially a war for control of bolita, a popular and profitable numbers game that was incredibly widespread throughout the state. After Charlie Wall gave in to the mob in 1945, the killings took on the form of house cleaning and elimination of competition.

On Aug. 10, 1954, Santo Trafficante Sr. died and passed the mantle of leadership on to his son Santo Jr. For the next four years, Santo Jr. (who was himself shot and wounded in 1953) consolidated independent Cuban and Spanish gangsters under his organization. By the 1960s, the Mafia was the top criminal group in town. Although not as large as organizations in Chicago or New York, the Tampa mob ran gambling, loansharking, narcotics trafficking, stolen property rings, union corruption, fraud and political corruption for decades. They also owned an inordinate number of local bars, nightclubs and liquor distributors.

Santo Trafficante Jr. set up shop in pre-Castro Cuba where he ran the Sans Souci and other casinos. After being expelled from Cuba when Castro ascended to power, Santo was hired by the CIA to formulate a plan to assassinate the new leader, due to his extensive contacts with Cuban exiles and gangsters from the island. Trafficante Jr.'s name is also tossed around as a conspirator in the assassination of President Kennedy.

Miami became Trafficante's base of operations in the 1960s, although he still visited Tampa. Santo Jr. regularly met with top mob bosses from across the country, along with Cuban, Corsican and Spanish crime lords, and he became one of the more powerful Mafia leaders in America.

Trafficante Jr.'s health, however, was a constant source of problems. On March 17, 1987, he died in a Houston hospital. The role of boss was allegedly passed to his former driver and prot'g', Vincent Salvatore LoScalzo.

The new family was much smaller because many of the older mobsters were retired or dead, and LoScalzo allegedly initiated a new group of members that included developer Joseph DiGerlando, James J. Valenti and Salvatore Carollo. The new organization set its sights on white-collar fraud and found itself in the middle of a major fiasco in 1992, when investigators revealed a laundry list of charges alleging fraudulent activity at Key Bank. The investigation alleged that the bank was used as a front for money laundering, bank fraud, wire fraud and a host of other financial crimes. Among those named were reputed mobsters Vincent LoScalzo, Frank Albano, Santo Jose Trafficante (nephew of the late boss) and old-time loanshark James Donofrio.

The Key Bank case fell apart after wiretaps were thrown out of court, and the next year, LoScalzo was arrested and charged with fraud in an unrelated case. He pled no contest and received three years probation. By the late 1990s some suspected the family was dormant, some said the family was absorbed by the New York-based Gambino family, while others maintained the family was still around, but not as active.

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