Angelo Lonardo “Big Ange”
In the 1980s, the FBI recorded Cleveland Mob Underboss, Joey Gallo, “Angelo Lonardo is probably one of the most respected guys in the whole United States.”
Gallo went on to state, “He’s really the kind of guy we needed in this town a long time ago, but you know, nobody ever listened to him because… he don’t express himself… But out of everybody that’s left, this guy commands a lot of respect… I respect him not only because I have to because, I’m telling you, he’s a great guy.”
Even police detectives and F.B.I. agents had a certain respect for Lonardo. “To me, he was almost like the movie version of The Godfather,” a policeman commented. “He was always the gentleman, not a tough street rat. He was someone who recognized us as people in the same general line of work – on an opposing team, of course.”
Like KC Underboss Tuffy DeLuna, Lonardo maintained respect for the police. When detectives would arrive at his home to execute a search or arrest warrant, Lonardo and his wife would treat them like guests even inviting them to sit and have coffee. I was part of a search warrant team at DeLuna’s house and he did the same thing.
In 1982, Lonardo was charged in a major drug ring operated by Joey Gallo and others. Strike Force prosecutor Donna Congeni was impressed with Lonardo’s demeanor in the court room. “He was the epitome of class,” she once remarked. She later said, “Because of his years of careful training in the art of secrecy and insulation, with meetings held in back rooms and decisions made with nods and coded phrases, our case against Angelo Lonardo was difficult to prove.But once drug ring leader and informant Carmen Zagaria testified about Lonardo’s methods, the jury could see his power and control.”
As a result of sentences handed down by U.S. District Court Judge John Manos, Angelo Lonardo, Joe Gallo and several others would be destined to life behind federal bars.
Lonardo survived the most hazardous pitfalls of Mafia involvement – mob bullets and prison. Through a lifetime of earning money from criminal and legitimate enterprises, he had spent only eighteen months incarcerated.
After his incarceration for the narcotics conviction in 1983, F.B.I. agents began visiting Lonardo and offered deals in exchange for his testimony. They promised to get him out of prison on an appeal bond. Lonardo had inside knowledge of the Midwest mob’s skimming operation in Las Vegas. In August of 1983, the government brought Lonardo to Kansas City to testify before the U.S. grand jury investigating this skimming from several Las Vegas casinos. Lonardo refused to testify, despite an offer of immunity and a judicial order.
Soon thereafter, Lonardo must have been weighing his options. He is looking at life in prison, He had an appeal pending but after that was denied, he quietly slipped away to a prison pay phone and called the agent who had visited him. He had made a painfully tormenting decision that would have far-reaching effects throughout the national underworld.
“Are you still there?” he quietly asked. At age 77, the highest ranking Mob boss who ever came over broke the code of Omerta and became a government witness in the Las Vegas skimming trials.
Senator Nunn: Thank you, Senator Roth. Mr. Lonardo, why don't you proceed.
Mr. Lonardo: My name is Angelo Lonardo. I am 77 years old, and I am a member of the La Cosa Nostra. I am the former underboss of the Cleveland organized crime family. I became a member of La Cosa Nostra in the late 1940's, but have been associated with the organization since the late 1920's. When I was "made" or became a member of La Cosa Nostra, I went through an initiation ceremony. I later learned that to be proposed for membership in La Cosa Nostra, you would have to have killed someone and stood up to the pressure of police scrutiny. Today, you do not have to kill to be a member, but just prove yourself worthy by keeping your mouth shut or by being a "stand-up" guy. However, if you are called upon to kill someone, you have to be prepared to do it. In my case, my father was murdered by Salvatore Todaro in 1927. In revenge, my cousin, Dominic Sospirato, and I killed Todaro. This is one of the reasons that I was proposed for membership in La Cosa Nostra.
Big Aage’s father was Cleveland Mob Boss Joseph Lonardo during the 1930s. He was killed by Salvatore Todaro. Angelo Lodardo killed Todaro in retaliation. Lonardo was eventually forgiven for this killing because the Commission had not approved this in advance.
After a temporary time when the Commission “closed the books” on new members, he was made in a ceremony in the late 1940s.
During the next 20 years Big Ange would live the life of a made guy in Cleveland loansharking, overseeing illegal gambling interests and other mob activities.
During the 1970s, the Cleveland family partnered with Moe Dalitz,
Maurice Kleinman and other Jewish gamblers who had been running illegal casinos in Kentucky. These Jewish gamblers bought into the Desert Inn and the Cleveland family provided protection from other mobsters for a piece of the action. Dalitz would buy into the Stardust with mob money, probably teamster money, and Chicago and Cleveland shared some of the profits from that casino.
In 1976, Cleveland boss, John Scalish dies of natural causes. Lonardo claims that Mashie Rockman called him into a meeting and said Scalish requested that a guy named Jack Licavoli new named the new boss. This started a mob war because another mobster named John Nardi thought he should be the boss. Licavoli names Lonardo as his Underboss. At that time, Rockman tells Lonardo the details of the Las Vegas skimming operation. Big Ange is pleasantly surprised that he will start receiving a large amount of skimmed cash with his new position.
By the late 1970s, the Cleveland family becomes involved in a mob war.
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