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Frank Ragano and Santo Trafficante Jr.

Retired Intelligence Detective Gary Jenkins brings you the best in mob history with his unique perception of the mafia. Gary and Australian contributor Tony Taouk examine the life and career of mob lawyer Frank Ragano. He started defending mafia boss Santo Trafficante Jr.’s Bolita bankers and runners, defended James Hoffa, and advised Carlos Marcello on some matters. One of the most exciting things Frank Ragano claims was that Santo Trafficante Jr. and New Orleans mob chieftain Carlos Marcello ordered the assassination of JFK. He claimed that Santo Trafficante Jr. confessed this to him shortly before his death. More specifically, Trafficante supposedly said he regretted killing John Kennedy and that he should have killed his brother, Robert Kennedy.

Tony Taouk is an Australian lawyer and a Mafia researcher who specializes in the subject of mob trials and mob lawyers. He has also traveled to the United States and visited mob-related sites in New York, Chicago, and Las Vegas.

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GARY JENKINS 00:00
Well hey guys back here in the studio gangland wire. This is your intelligence unit detective Gary Jenkins retired former guys. We’re here with Tony toke from Down Under. He is our expert on mob lawyers. We’ve done several in the past. Tony, we did Oscar Goodman last. And what did we do before that? Oh, we did Roy Cohn and today we’re going to do Frank Ragano. And guys, there’s a heck of a book out there Mob Lawyer if you want to know a lot more about them. What we’re going to say about Frank Ragano get this book that he co wrote with a really highly respected well known mob historian Selwyn Rob wrote the Five Families I believe was his quiz, his premier work. And so it’s called Mob Lawyer. So Tony, let’s talk a little bit about how he got started. I was reading the book and it looks like as a young lawyer down in Tampa Ybor City, there’s a lot of numbers racket or boleto going on. And as any young lawyer, he starts taking some of these low level cases, probably in city court, more than likely that’s what it would be here in Kansas City or maybe the lower level the associate Circuit Court taken on some of those and I believe, Santos Trafficante took notice that a man what do you remember about how I got into this business of being a mob lawyer?

Tony Taourk 01:26
Well, frankly, Ragano was born in 1923. He grew up poor in Tampa, Florida. His parents were working class Sicilian immigrants. He actually fought in the Second World War and he received a Bronze Star for bravery. After the war, he went to the University of Tampa and Stetson Law School on the GI Bill of Rights. He clerked for the Florida Supreme Court, and was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1952. Now, during his stint with the Florida Supreme Court, he attracted the attention of a Pat Whittaker. He was a maverick criminal defense attorney in the Tampa area, who was the go to lawyer for local mobsters. Now, Whitaker took Ragano under his wing and encouraged him to start his own practice and promised to refer him work. He’s big break came in 1954 when Florida mob boss Santo Trafficante and 34 men were arrested on gambling and bribery charges. This was in connection with the whole Bolita operation that you just referred to, I think we didn’t get represented Trafficante, who was quite because Ragano was quite young at this point. And most likely because Trafficante was his most important client, you wouldn’t want to give him up. But he referred 28 Black men who were runners for the traffic county gambling network to Ragano for legal representation. Now the defendants were acquitted, or their convictions were overturned on appeal to the Florida State Supreme Court. Now, because of this, regardless, names started to appear regularly in local newspapers, and he started to get a steady stream of clients connected to organized crime there. So that’s how he got his start. But more importantly, he gained the confidence of traffic contae And he also have the added advantage of being off Sicilian heritage, which meant that he knew the rules. In other words, keep your mouth shut, and don’t ask too many questions. Now Ragano kept Trafficante out of jail and serve this is legal advisor. As you no doubt aware Trafficante had significant gambling interests in pre Castro Cuba. Like many other mobsters of that era, in the wake of the Cuban revolution in 1959, and traffic counter was arrested by Castro’s men in Havana and was scheduled to face the firing squad. As soon as you heard about it, regarding to flew down to Havana and arranged for him to be released from custody. trafficante then recommended him to other significant mob bosses or mob connected bosses, such as New Orleans mob chief Carlos Marcello and the teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, Ragano was hired by Jimmy Hoffa when he was in court on Union corruption charges in the early 1960s. In fact, Ragano was at Hoffa’s side in Nashville when a man burst in started shooting Hoffa before Hoffa managed to punch the man across the courtroom. Now that scene was portrayed in a recent movie The Irishman around this time Ragano started to broker loans from the Teamsters Pension Fund, in return for a finder’s fee that went something like this. If a mobster in say Florida or Louisiana wanted to legally invest in something like a hotel or restaurant or trucking company or some other business, the banks more often than not, would reject him on account of his unsavory background or convictions or associations. This is when riguardo would intercede for the mobster in the teamsters would loan the money from their pension fund to this mobster or mob associate for which regarder would get a tidy kickback. Now, this is when the lines start to blur. He goes from lawyer to fixer, and it becomes like a go between for this triangle of traffic can take Hoffa and Marcelo, and this is when Robert Kennedy was attorney general and he was out to get these three. He was their sworn enemy and made Ragano a very busy man at the time Ragano was blinded to everything by the fact that he was making a truckload of money and living the highlife. He dressed very well, he Hobnob good celebrities. He was on top of the world as far as he was concerned. Now, notwithstanding the fact that he was considered by the authorities to be House Counsel for the mob. He was actually a brilliant lawyer in the courtroom regarded was brilliant at reaching jurors and planting reasonable doubt in their minds. For example, in 1972, he was representing Henry Hill and Jimmy Burke. Down in Tampa, the men were portrayed in the movie, Goodfellas. And actually, this was also betrayed in Goodfellas. They were charged with extortion, kidnapping and attempted murder. This is when they supposedly took a guy to the zoo and threatened to throw him into the lion cage. Yeah, I don’t think that happened. I think that was embellished to the movie. Pay important visual effects, which involve picking up a pencil and moving it slowly from side to side, like a pendulum in front of the jury. And he said something to the effect of if you find that the evidence causes your mind to waver vacillate between guilt and innocence, guilt and innocence, guilt and innocence, then you haven’t been convinced beyond the reasonable doubt. And it’s your sworn duty to find the defendants not guilty. Now, that just sums up the concept of reasonable doubt so well.

GARY JENKINS 07:42
Oh, bye. That was brilliant. Brilliant.

Tony Taourk 07:45
Yes. He was also quite charismatic and crafty in the courtroom. For instance, in one case, he took advantage of the fact that three of the jurors were chicken farmers, by saying that the state’s case was as weak as chicken soup made from the shadow of a starving chicken. Now the jurors burst out laughing and acquitted his client. But eventually, his tenacious representation of the mob bosses started to causing serious problems. In 1971, he sued Time magazine after it published a photograph of mock figures in New York that included regard and they mistakenly identified him as a mobster. He was quite offended by that. The federal government saw him as nothing more than a fixer for the mob, and started to thoroughly investigate his tax affairs, as they tend to do when all else fails in the early 1970s. He was prosecuted for, among other things, failing to declare a capital gain that arose from a business transaction you did with a traffic campaign associate. He was convicted of five counts of fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion, and he lost his license to practice law. During his legal woes, he was completely abandoned by Trafficante. And he talks a lot about this in his book, he feels very betrayed Trafficante, I just expected him to fall on the sword and refuse to help him. riguardo was very disappointed and spent several years in destitution. And he was working as a paralegal during that time, until he managed to get reinstated to the bar in 1981. Now, when he went back to the bar, he kept his distance from organized crime figures, especially trafficante because he obviously felt betrayed by him and others. And he managed to build a successful practice for a while he took on various high profile murder trials and other criminal trials. But he just couldn’t escape his past. Just what he thought he was, just pulled him back.

GARY JENKINS 09:44
So they thought he was out. They pull it back. And you know, he was really well known by the National mob and up in New York City because of that incident, where they took that picture that was 1966 and it was kind of a famous incident. It’s called the Stella restaurant incident. And somebody tipped off the New York Times and then post. They sent photographers down there and there he was having lunch with crappy content, Carlos Marcello, Carlos Gambino, a couple of Gambino, those guys Neil Delacroce. I’m trying to think who else Joe Colombo was there. I mean, there was a big he’s there that day that he was hobnobbing with there had been a trial going on. Actually, it was after the Apalachin meeting that they were still hashing that around in New York courts. And he was up there to defend trafficante. And that I believe, this point in time later in his life, they all knew Frank Ragano was and would address them. I’m surprised that he quit representing people.

Tony Taourk 10:45
And it’s quite possible that that photograph gave him too much publicity in that spot. Because if you think about it shortly afterwards, that’s when the IRS started to investigate him for his tax.

GARY JENKINS 10:55
Interesting, yes, yeah, I see.

Tony Taourk 10:58
The publicity triggered by that photograph might have led to his downfall or his first downfall. There were two downfalls.

GARY JENKINS 11:08
So now we’re gonna get to that and we got to talk about the plot to kill Kennedy and his involvement and talking about that. So just wanted to remind you that we got to get to that point, so go ahead.

Tony Taourk 11:21
Well, when he released his book mob lawyer in 1994, in that book, if you’ve read it, he claims to have really the order to assassinate President Kennedy from Jimmy Hoffa, to Santo Trafficante and Carlos Marcello. He also claimed that shortly before his death, traffic, Antonio, confessed to him his involvement in the JFK assassination. Namely, he told him that he regretted killing John Kennedy, he should have killed his brother Robert Kennedy instead. Now, traffic counties family vigorously denied regardless allegation and produce hospital records to show that traffic county wasn’t in Tampa at that time. Now, a lot of people dismiss the claims in the book is self serving and designed to promote his book and create a media sensation. But there are others like George Robert Blakey, who was involved in the house assassinations committee, who do give weight to his claims. So who knows? Who’s right, so

GARY JENKINS 12:24
interesting. Yes. About Hoffa, so he was really close to have fun. And I think he warned off I believe, then he carry a message to Hartford say you’re getting in trouble. So then also at the end of that book, I noticed he describes the scene that day when they pick up Hoffa and take him off to be murdered as if he had first hand knowledge about it. I was really surprised about that.

Tony Taourk 12:50
Yeah. And again, people think that he made all these sensational claims in his book to get the publicity and get it released because he was pipe broke at the time. He had been bad and convicted and served jail time in the early 1990s. This arose out of a second case he did for Santo trafficante. Now in the early 1980s, Santo Trafficante was indicted on charges they grew out of a $2 million FBI sting operation conducted between 1979 and 1981. Traffic counting was the last of 12 defendants to be indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with distinct operation in which traffic can say supposedly, was working with the New York banana crime family to set up gambling operations across Florida. Now this was depicted in the movie Donnie Brasco. The trial had been repeatedly delayed by the defense who said that traffic actor who by this stage was in his 70s was too ill to stand trial. Now a desperate traffic can take eight to riguardo because he was very unimpressed with his lawyer who was active for him at the time, and pleaded with him to defend him. Because Trafficante, as I mentioned before, had kept his distance from him since he got reinstated to the bar. And Ragano was very reluctant given his previous experiences with Trafficante the way he discarded him when he had his tax problems in the early 70s. And he refused to help him but ultimately, Trafficante relented or who knows maybe he was threatened. We’re gonna argue that during the case when he took home the case eventually he argued that the case was primarily built around hearsay testimony about by statements from the Nano crime family member Dominick Sonny Black Napolitano. Also he was depicted in Donnie Brasco. Now, Napolitano was found dead with his hands cut off in 1981 because he was connection to the whole Donnie Brasco affair. Now in 1986, a judge granted a defense motion to a quick traffic count I, on the grounds that the evidence was too weak. This was a real egg in the face of the authorities who had spent millions of dollars pursuing this case. Now, according to riguardo, and he talks about this in his book, The same Federal Strike Force prosecutor who lost the trial that he had against Santa Trafficante, instigated a second tax investigation, which ended with regard no been convicted of tax evasion again, in 1990. Now, this time, he was disbarred and sentenced to just under a year in prison. For gonna like I said, after he got out of prison, he released mob lawyer, he made spectacular claims which caused headlines in some tabloids all over the country in 1994, when the book came out, but he had an amazing career. It was a roller coaster ride, it was full of highs and lows. No doubt, he was a great lawyer, but ultimately, his association with the mob caused his downfall twice. It’s a sad turn

GARY JENKINS 16:07
robber that and his greed and especially when he was getting into that Teamster money getting them kicked back through loans. That’s the same thing they were doing with Kansas City and Alan Dorfman and Roy Lee Williams and some of those other high level teamsters that were loaning money out to casino owners in Las Vegas and Chicago eiopa On the road in Kansas, they were all getting kickbacks from those loans. So that’s exactly the same setup. I don’t know. I wonder how much money was made off that teamsters pension fund, nationwide worldwide, even from kickback from those loans they made crazy.

Tony Taourk 16:44
Well, the funny thing is Las Vegas probably wouldn’t have been what it is, if it wasn’t for those Teamster loans. Now, no, backstage in the 1950s banks were very uncomfortable with giving money to businesses starting up casino operations or anything involved with gambling. So in a way they created Vegas, and they made it what it is today. So but we’re gonna just got too close. He couldn’t draw the line those kickbacks, I think we’re doing a good thing. He was becoming too aggressive in his fight with the government. He took it personally. He felt like he was also targeted. And ultimately, as you know, under Robert Kennedy, the government became 10 times more aggressive in pursuing organized crime. So it was quite dangerous to be a mob attorney. And there are others during that period as well that were also investigated and targeted because I read a book recently about it’s called Vendetta, it’s about the relationship between Jimmy Hoffa and Robert Kennedy. It’s quite a good book. And a lot of lawyers stopped acting for these figures, because they found that as soon as they took on an organized crime client, they became scrutinized in their tax affairs, or investigated. They decided to just move on. But in regardless case, destroyed his career on two occasions. He decided to get on with it and support his career.

GARY JENKINS 18:08
Interesting. I have a question or kind of go back in the middle of this when he representative up there Niceville, I believe, was that a union corruption or is that where they got caught? bribing a member of the jury, or some kind of jury bribery up in Tennessee that Hoffa was involved in? Do you remember that?

Tony Taourk 18:30
Yes, I believe that was the test plate case. But there were trucks. There was some kind of trucking company. I think it was in the name of Hoffa’s wife, and it was receiving kickbacks. Yes, that effect, but I think you’re right. I think a juror in connection with that case was bribed. And then offer was subsequently tried on that charge. And I think that’s what he got convicted for and imprisoned for, if I’m not mistaken.

GARY JENKINS 18:55
I think that was Ragano was a pretty good lawyer, but he can’t be everything. When they start beating themselves. best you can do is minimize the damage as we say in legal business.

Tony Taourk 19:07
That’s right. I didn’t put much stock in the version portrayed in the Irishman about his disappearance, to be honest. Yeah. He’s worried about that.

GARY JENKINS 19:16
I’m trying to remember I’ve read so many different things, and I got caught up in so little controversy between when I was at a documentary talking about it. I got mad at me for what I said he was mad about what he said but I got said Rigondeaux describes it in detail. Of course, he picked this up from other people that Chuckie O’Brien brought in stepfather Hoffa to the location they drove away with him and took him somewhere else somebody held a gun on O’Brien and then these Bruligos took him off to kill him so um, it’s kind of somewhere along those lines. He was described it like he was there, which is kind of bad for a what’s supposed to be a non friction book. Yeah. Interesting. All right. So I don’t know anything else to say about Frank Ragano. And I don’t know if he ever actually represented Carlos Marcello, he might have advised him or help her some representation. No, he

Tony Taourk 20:14
didn’t actually, Marcello had his own lawyer. He had.

GARY JENKINS 20:20
Yeah, he had kind of a friend who was his regular lawyer, Mike

Tony Taourk 20:24
Moran. Mike Moran was, was his lawyer from St. Yes, from Louisiana. He was with him all the way through and even went down to Guatemala when he got deported and threatened the jungle.

GARY JENKINS 20:37
Oh, yeah. That’s right. He did this. Yes.

Tony Taourk 20:41
By Robert Kennedy, which was illegal by the way. Yeah.

GARY JENKINS 20:45
I know. He just got a plane and came back after a little vacation down there. That’s right. That story wants to get the real story because a lot of rumors out there about how the government just dropped him off with a little airstrip out in the middle of the jungle. And he’s shirtsleeves left him there. But it wasn’t quite that way.

Tony Taourk 21:05
You know, that arose because my cell phone was using a fake Guatemala birth certificate because he was born in Tunisia. And he wasn’t an American citizen. So he was using a fake watermelon

GARY JENKINS 21:17
on that fake Guatemalan birth certificate. And then I say then they deported him to Guatemala.

Tony Taourk 21:24
But the thing is, the government knew that birth certificate was fake. Yeah. So on those grounds, they shouldn’t have deported him because if you know, a document is fake, you don’t act on it, really. So that’s what made it illegal. Yes.

GARY JENKINS 21:38
Bobby Kennedy did not let such niceties as the actual legality of action get in his way he when it came to the mob, if I remember, right, that’s right. I had wiretaps and bugs all over the place of the book, the ones that you use as a source. Source number T three told me this, but it’s actually came off of a wire microphone or something.

Tony Taourk 22:04
But it wasn’t until 1970 that the RICO act right now

GARY JENKINS 22:08
68, the Omnibus Crime Control bill of 1968, it was this overarching thing was passed out of all the fear after the riots in the 60s and Civil Disorders and all that and they revamped everything and got out codified some of the narcotics laws. And they do that title three law. And they’re finally it’s titled Three is what they call it. Anytime you hear an FBI agent talk about they did a T three or title three, it’s a wiretap or a bug. But that’s when it came into play.

Tony Taourk 22:41
They actually don’t have an equivalent legislation in Australia, something equivalent to Rico. So it’s much harder to prosecute here in Australia and prosecute organized crime.

GARY JENKINS 22:52
Do they know they don’t have they do wiretaps?

Tony Taourk 22:55
They do wiretaps? Definitely. Absolutely. But you can’t prosecute an organization the way you can under Rico?

GARY JENKINS 23:01
Oh, okay. You don’t have the RICO statute?

Tony Taourk 23:05
No, no, they have to be prosecuted as individuals or CO conspirators, but not as a whole organization. Which makes it a lot harder.

GARY JENKINS 23:14
Yeah. Oh, yeah. That Rico is a ballbuster for these guys. Everybody said, Well, what happened in the mafia and I say, you know, Rico primarily, and good electronics and Rico, and that was it, that and draconian sentences, bring those three things you can,

Tony Taourk 23:28
it’s pretty hard to fight as a lawyer, too, because they just keep adding charge after charge after charge. And eventually, something’s going to come of them’s gonna stay. So

GARY JENKINS 23:40
all you need is one storyteller to kind of tie it together a little bit. And then when that guy’s looking at life in prison for something and he can walk, he’s happy to be a storyteller many times. All right, Tony Tauok from down under our friend Tony’s a lawyer down in Sydney. So if anybody down there has a traffic ticket, they Tony I just did a traffic ticket today or I was working on one today for my granddaughter I quit practicing law but I was just working on they got an offer back from the prosecutor. We’re gonna keep her out of jail, but she’s gonna have a hefty fines, you’re doing an 80 mile an hour and a 55.

Tony Taourk 24:17
That would cause automatic suspension here. And yes,

GARY JENKINS 24:20
we’re gonna pay a hefty fine and get a non moving violation and she says do a year probation. So but deferred that may be the last traffic ticket ever do when the data except it was her? All right, Tony, I really appreciate you working on these mob lawyers. We’ve got some more coming up. What do you think we ought to do next?

Tony Taourk 24:41
I was thinking maybe we got back to the 1920s prohibition era. Okay. I’m not sure if he was interested in that.

GARY JENKINS 24:50
Who was Capone’s lawyer for that big case. That was a hell of a case. I did a whole show on the trial. There’s a lot of details about the trial, but I can’t remember Lawyer

Tony Taourk 25:01
the tax evasion trial I think yeah, he’s, he’s my lawyer was oh, here.

GARY JENKINS 25:05
Oh, yeah. Was the guy they named the airport after O’Hare?

Tony Taourk 25:08
Yes. And they actually named the airport after his son. His son was a fighter naval hero. Okay, that’s right. And I think William Fallon was Arnold Rothstein, ‘s lawyer. And Sam Liebowitz acted for Al Capone on a number of occasions as well, the New York attorney. He represents a lot of mock figures. Okay, York, and he represents Yes. But I will say

GARY JENKINS 25:33
that I’m trying to think in modern times, you’d probably need to do Bruce Cutler one of these times, if we can find enough information. I’m nobody’s done this whole story. But actually,

Tony Taourk 25:42
yeah, Bruce Cutler would be a good option, actually. Okay.

GARY JENKINS 25:46
Well, we’ll talk about it, Tony, I really appreciate you. Thanks a lot. Yeah,

Tony Taourk 25:51
no worries. All right,

GARY JENKINS 25:53
you guys. You know what I was saying. Now, if you’ve got a problem with PTSD, or got a friend that does, and you’ve been in service, go to the website of the VA and get that hotline and you can get some help there. If you got a problem with drugs or alcohol, I suggest you get hold of our friend Anthony ruggiano. He’s a counselor down in Florida. He’s got a hotline number on his website. It’s Anthony ruggiano.com. Just start looking for Anthony ruggiano. He’s on YouTube, too. That would be pretty cool. Have your alcohol drug counselor be a made guy or formerly a made guy. And don’t forget, I like to ride motorcycles. So watch out for motorcycles when you’re out there. And really appreciate you guys listen, like and subscribe and you might do a review. If you’re on the Apple podcast, give me a review. Share it with your friends. Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot, Tony. Thank you

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