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Johnny Roselli: Hollywood Gangster

Retired Intelligence Detective Gary Jenkins brings you the best in mob history with his unique perception of the mafia. In this episode of Mafia Biographies, delve into the captivating life of John “Handsome Johnny” Roselli. Born Filippo Sacco in 1905, Roselli’s journey traversed organized crime during Prohibition, connections with mob figures like Al Capone, and ventures into liquor imports and labor racketeering.

Transitioning to Las Vegas, Roselli emerged as a key player in the casino scene and infiltrated Hollywood craft unions and production companies, showcasing his versatility. The narrative takes a surprising turn in the 1960s with involvement in a CIA plot to assassinate Fidel Castro, entwining mobsters and political intrigue.

Roselli’s appearance before a Senate committee in the 1970s shed light on his connections to espionage and criminal activities. His mysterious demise in 1976 near Miami further added layers of speculation to his intricate life, leaving a legacy that echoes the complexities of crime, business, and political power in American history. Join us for more underworld biographies as we unravel captivating stories of mobsters.
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Welcome to Gangland Wire
[0:00]Well, hey, welcome all you wiretappers back here in the studio of Gangland Wire.
We’ve got another riveting episode of Mafia Biographies. You know,
I’m bringing you these little short Mafia biographies.
It’s your host, former intelligence unit detective, Kansas City Police Department, Gary Jenkins.
And today we’re going to delve into the intricate life of John Handsome Johnny Roselli.
He was a mobster who his life story weaves through the gritty streets of Chicago,
started in New York, of course, goes out to L.A., Las Vegas.
This is the gripping story of a man who was able to navigate both the criminal
underworld and the covert world of espionage.
But he also was able to navigate through the boardrooms and the film studios
of the Hollywood major motion picture producers.
It’s crazy. And we’re going to uncover the different layers of handsome Johnny
Roselli. He was born Filippo Sacco, July 4th, 4th of July, 1905.
I didn’t know he was that old. He’s born in Esperia, Italy.
[1:04]Roselli’s early life was marked by an immigration to Boston at the age of six.
He was raised in a world that was shaped by criminal undertones of the Prohibition era of America.
Roselli’s destiny seemed sealed. His father, Vincenzo Sacco,
had paved his way into the underworld before him.
1922, at the age of 17, Johnny Roselli faced a narcotics charge in Massachusetts.
This caused him to move to New York. Then he moved to Chicago for a while.
[1:38]And it was during this time that young Filippo Sacco metamorphosed into Johnny Roselli.
That was a name that’s going to resonate through the echelons of organized crime
throughout the rest of the 20th century.
Johnny Roselli got to Los Angeles in 1924.
His story takes an unexpected turn. He gets arrested and he pleads guilty to bootlegging.
He’d become entangled with the notorious Cornero brothers out in L.A.
And he really had ascended to a prominent role in getting liquor imports from
outside the country into Southern California.
Now, while he’s out there in LA, he forges a close relationship with the underboss,
later become the boss, Jack Dragna.
This will prove really instrumental to a lot of his career.
Johnny Roselli had a connection to Al Capone going back to Chicago.
In 1928, Capone invited Roselli back to Chicago and wanted to bring him into the organization.
[2:36]This was kind of a strategic move by Capone because he wanted to strengthen
his ties between himself and the Los Angeles mobs.
And Roselli would be the liaison with Jack Dragna. They’re his friend.
The Los Angeles assignment, of course, paves the way for the Chicago outfit
to eventually infiltrate major motion picture studios unions.
In 1942, Roselli will be indicted on a federal labor racketeering charge,
along with George Brown, former president
of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Union,
and Willie Bioff, a Chicago racketeer, labor racketeer, and former pimp.
Bioff will eventually resign.
[3:17]Turn witness and testify against these guys
and be killed for his trouble later on
in a phoenix and a car bomb 1942 with
these charges pending johnny roselli enlist in
the united states army in a world war ii is going on and he was actually able
to serve three years then they give him an undesirable discharge because he’s
got this case pending he’s getting ready to go to the penitentiary because while
in the service roselli and several other chicago outfit members like like Frank Nitti and Paul Rica,
were convicted of the extortion scheme where they extracted money from various Hollywood studios.
In 1943, he began a 10-year prison sentence, but through some manipulations
by the outfit, all these guys that were involved with this Hollywood extortion get out in 1947.
[4:06]By the mid-1950s, he’s shifted his focus away from Hollywood.
This is a member of Mayor Lansky’s notice about Las Vegas and Las Vegas is starting
to grow in the post-war era.
That’s when Las Vegas just takes off and grows like crazy because they have the gambling.
It’s a gambling, becoming a gambling mecca.
1956, he has become the Chicago outfit and the Los Angeles mob’s chief representative in Las Vegas.
And his job was mainly to ensure that the Chicago mob Lobb bosses got their
share of the casino revenues through the skimming.
However, the Los Angeles offices, the FBI noted that he was also employed as
a movie producer at Monogram Studios, and he actually did produce some movies.
In an unexpected twist, Roselli found himself totally immersed in the Hollywood movie business.
Close friendships with film producer Brian Foy and Columbia Pictures co-founder
Harry Harry Cohen opened up doors for Roselli.
He got credits as a producer in early gangster movies.
He maneuvered effortlessly between the glitzy studios and the shadowy realms
of organized crime and the outfit.
And he was invaluable to the outfit. Having that kind of a guy in those positions
in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, he was dating stars.
Hollywood Connections
[5:27]I think he married a movie star, a minor movie star.
But on the surface, he looked clean as a houndstooth. dude, 1960s,
a new chapter unfolded for our friend, Johnny Roselli. This guy, I mean, he.
[5:40]He is a piece of work. He gets involved with the CIA.
The CIA had recruited a man named Robert Mayhew, who is a former FBI agent and
the kind of the fixer and main bodyguard for Howard Hughes.
And he’s moved into Las Vegas by this time.
So they go to Mayhew and say, you know, we want some mobsters.
We want to kill Fidel Castro.
Well, you know, Mayhew knows Johnny Roselli because he’s this,
you know, figure in Los Angeles. and in Las Vegas.
Robert Mayhew brings Roselli in, gets him in to do some CIA agents.
And then Roselli brings in Sam Giancana and Santoro Traficante Jr.
And they supposedly took money from the CIA and supposedly had some failed attempts
to poison Castro, which eventually they just move on.
Now, some people say, typical mob deal, take the money and then say,
yeah, we’re going to try and not do anything.
Involvement with CIA
[6:37]The Bay of Pigs comes along and the CIA just, they like wash their hands of this whole deal.
This won’t come back to haunt them for a while, but eventually I think it was
the church committee brings all this back in, which, you know,
that’s going to, that’s going to be bad on Johnny Roselli.
[6:53]1970s, it’s a darker narrative for our friend, handsome Johnny Roselli.
He ends up testifying for this U.S. Senate select committee on intelligence
about this CIA plan to kill Castro.
I don’t know if if you remember, but this was a big deal back in the 70s and
looking at all the CIA abuses over the years and things that they’d done that
were way outside their mandate in many ways.
The shadows deepened when his connections to another notorious event emerged,
the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
There was lots of conspiracy theories about that, that hint at Johnny Roselli
and the Chicago outfit’s involvement, particularly when Jack Ruby,
a former Chicago outfit associate who has ended up in Dallas,
kills the man who killed Kennedy.
Or maybe they recruited some people to go help kill Kennedy.
Maybe Richard Cain really did do it. I don’t know.
Just added a layer of complexity to this already intricate tale of handsome Johnny Roselli.
Well, he won’t make it out of the 70s. His life took a tragic turn.
On August the 7th, 1976, his decomposing body was discovered in a 55-gallon
drum out in the bay by Miami, Florida, close to Miami, Florida.
There’s been a lot of theories surrounding his death, internal mob dispute.
[8:09]They didn’t like that he was involved with the CIA thing, that he did testify
in front of this committee, didn’t trust him anymore.
Did the CIA killed him because he knew too much? They know too much about the
Kennedy assassination.
You know, we’ll never know. There’ll always be a lot of conspiracy theories
Legacy and Conspiracy Theories
[8:27]and a lot of discussion about what happened to Johnny Roselli.
And so I’m sure you guys have all taken part in those discussions. I know many have.
I have, and I’ve seen them on the Facebook page, the Gangland Wire podcast group.
His Facebook page, you’ll see discussions about this on that.
So the legacy of handsome Johnny Roselli lives on. He had a complex life.
It was a tapestry woven through the alleys of Chicago, the glamour of Hollywood,
the high stakes tables of Las Vegas.
And his story is a testament to the interconnectedness of crime and business,
kindness, labor unions.
[9:03]Governmental power, and they’re all intertwined in there, especially during the 50s, 60s, and 70s.
Join us next time when we do another Underworld Bio, and we’ll unearth another
captivating story and a biography of one of the other many mobsters we’ve had in this country.
So thanks, guys. And don’t forget, I like to ride motorcycles.
So watch out for motorcycles when you’re out there.
And if you’ve got a problem with PTSD and you’ve been in the service, go to the website.
The VA has a website with a hotline number and drugs and alcohol always go hand in hand with PTSD.
And even if you haven’t been in the service, I think the VA has a lot of help
along those lines of treatment centers and things like that.
But if you’re not, our friend, Anthony Ruggiano, former Gambino member is a
drug and alcohol counselor down in Florida.
He has a hotline on his website, anthonyrugiano.com, I think,
and he’s on YouTube, too. Don’t forget, like and subscribe.
Give me a review. Tell your friends. Share on your social media.
[10:10]Join our Facebook page or Facebook group. Actually, I have a page,
too, but it’s not very popular.
We don’t put very much on it. The group is where a lot of things are shared
and a lot of discussions happen in the replies and down below the pictures if
you’re familiar with Facebook at all.
I know a lot of y’all aren’t, but a lot of people are.
It’s a good place to make connections with other mob fans, maybe from your area of the country.
I see a lot of connections being made and people getting to know each other
because they have that in common. They’re all a bunch of people from Cleveland.
Got a bunch from Philly on there, of course, as well as New York and Chicago
and Kansas City. So thanks a lot, guys.

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