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Steel City Mafia

Retired Intelligence Detective Gary Jenkins brings you the best in mob history with his unique perception of the mafia. Gary interviews the author of Steel City Mafia: Blood Betrayal and Pittsburgh’s Last Don. Starting with the bombing of mob associate Paul Hankish, this is a story of Mafia life in Steel City with all its blood and betrayal. Paul Hankish was the boss of Wheeling West Virginia and he kicked up the Pittsburgh Family. Plus, we learn about the last Don and how a 1/2 Sicilian named Chuckie Porter became Underboss and took down the family.
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Transcript

SPEAKERS
GARY JENKINS, Paul Hodos

00:00
So you may have heard of Paul Hankish. He was a Wheeling associated Pittsburgh mobster, his nickname was No Legs basically how he got that nickname is pretty interesting story. He was an up and coming bookmaker and gambler and his rival and Wheeling was getting a little nervous about him in 1964. Paul Hankish on one morning was coming out of his house and he got into his car and started the car. Fortunately for him, there was a dynamite bomb in the engine block, his car exploded. Basically there was a shock wave throughout the neighborhoods and windows were blown out. The authorities arrived pretty quickly. Luckily for him, he was conscious throughout the ordeal was car was on fire. He was stuck in there. His one leg was partially severed and the other one was completely blown off. When the police arrived. He was basically just screaming come and help me please. And so they got him out, took them to the hospital and it ended up that they had to amputate his other leg. That’s how he basically had to go and wear prosthetics to walk with crutches basically for the rest of his life.

00:55
But welcome all you Wiretappers back here in the studio of Gangland Wire, I’ve got a story that I think a lot of you guys would really be interested in because it was such a big response to my friend Steve say John talked about being in the penitentiary down at Springfield in the hospital penitentiary with Lefty Ruggerio. And he told a story about a man named Paul Hankish. And we’re going to talk about Paul Hankish, a little bit and his connection to the Pittsburgh crime family and more about the Pittsburgh mob. So welcome my guest, Paul Hodos. Paul, welcome.

01:28
Thank you, Gary. Nice to be here.

01:30
It’s really great to have you here. And this is perfect this Paul Hankish had so many questions about Paul Hankish said I know my friend Steve, who I see every Wednesday anymore kind of interesting story may being a Copper and really be in charge of the Surveillance crew that helped get him put in the penitentiary and we become friends in the last few years after he got out and he led the straight life. But after he got out, he’ll really be interested to hear more about Paul hankies. And I know I have a lot of guys, especially my friend, Rob Starr, who wants to hear more and more about the Pittsburgh crime family. And it is an interesting small little family kind of like the Kansas City family. So you have done a lot of history, a lot of background into that. And tell us about your own personal history how you got into this.

02:17
So I’m actually from Western Pennsylvania, originally, I live in Maryland now. But I’m from the area where the current family was based, actually was born in a town called Johnstown PA, which is old time steel town, one of the Pittsburgh mafia as captains. If you guys they’re gambling and whatnot, pretty quiet area for the Pittsburgh mob, honestly, my hometown, but the rest of the family wasn’t as quiet. So it makes for an interesting read.

02:40
Really. So what did you do for a living? You have a kind of an interesting background.

02:45
Yeah. So as in the FBI. I started out in New York City, basically a surveillance operative, if you want to call it that the official term was investigative specialist. And we would do surveillances mostly on like terrorism type subjects and things like that. A little bit of criminal stuff. And I did that for seven years. And then I moved on to headquarters and was there for over 10 years as an analyst. So a lot of writing a lot of research and that career. It helped me out obviously, with understanding crime and terrorism, whatnot. But it also helped me with my writing, honestly, too. Yeah,

03:22
really. So now, what about researching the Pittsburgh Crime family? How did you go about that specifically? I’m sure you did some FOIA request. And

03:30
yeah, FOIA was very important. My book specifically focuses on like the last decades of the family. So family kind of went defunct in the 2000. And I took it from the sort of like, it’s a story about the fall the family. So FBI FOIA docs in that time, especially on the boss, Mike Genovese, and Pennsylvania did a bunch of really good reports, actually, that were basically just source reporting that they would package up and release to the public, believe it or not, Pennsylvania Crime Commission, very good source for anything that was OC in Pennsylvania, and then a few interviews for law enforcement and a little bit of talk into some of the associates who are still alive but not too much on the interview side, more documentary for sure.

04:15
So the Pittsburgh Crime Family, this was after Big John Larocca is what you’re talking about, correct?

04:22
Yes. And I go into big John’s reign, because you have to do the backgrounds for each of the characters in the chapter. So it does get covered some but the real focus of the book is post La Rocca.

04:32
Okay. And there’s my Genovese, who is not the Genovese from New York, we always have to

04:39
say so. Yeah, Vito Genovese had a brother named Mike. So there is a lot of confusion about that. But this is a different one. From what I’ve seen. He probably wasn’t like really closely related to the gentleman uses Vito and Mike in New York. But maybe maybe like way back. There were some family connections. They are kind of from the same area.

04:59
Yeah. It’s kind of like the O’Donnells of Ireland and they’re not all related. Or the Jenkins is from Wales are not all related. So, you know, a lot of great stories. I know they got into drugs and which historically was a no, no our crime family here, the only we had an associate that invested money into drug dealers, but nobody, no made guy ever got directly involved in drugs. And it looks like they got directly involved in drugs in Pittsburgh, but there’s a lot of stories came out of that.

05:37
Yeah, for sure. That’s one of the definite like, items that made them fall. They weren’t a very large family, as you mentioned. So when you get a few prosecutions, it can really cripple family. And drugs were definitely a problem. Some of them did just do the investing, like you said, but because Pittsburgh made so few people, some of their associates are really key. And so when you even take out some of those associates, because they were dealing drugs, that even that hits the family pretty hard. You had like, in the early 80s, you had like Nick the Blade Guesale as well, a guy who took a pinch and went down. He was a pretty important player in Pittsburgh. But he was very much involved in the drug trade. That was his main thing.

06:17
Yeah, what a name Nick the Blade. Yeah. So we talked before about Paul Hankish, How was he? He was an associate. He was not Sicilian for sure. I don’t even know if he was half Italian. But how was he connected to the family?

06:35
Yeah, so that was a kind of a hard thing to track down. It wasn’t really documented too. Well, like you could see him meeting with people in different documents and people that you interview with, but there was never any, like a smoking gun where you could say like, was he actually kicking up? Like, where was the money that he was making going? And because of that, I think a lot of people think wheeling is like a separate criminal entity. But it wasn’t and luckily, I found a former law enforcement officer who knew what was going on. And Paul Hankish, would basically travel up to a little town just outside of Pittsburgh, and he would go to a restaurant called Orsinis and he would meet with whatever made guy was basically handling him at the time. There were a few who did. And he would hand over the cash there, basically. So from his gambling rackets, he was actually you’re into drugs as well, selling cocaine and things like that. So organized theft, but he was just like everybody else in that area of pain, the family and he is unique, because this is kind of a Pittsburgh family thing, because they had so few made guys. A lot of times associates were really in charge of big operations. So he was in charge of all of Wheeling, West Virginia, even though he was just an associate. And he had a crew of his own a bunch of guys under him that were doing the work and including murders and things like that. So he had a lot of independence, but he was still taking direction and pain up. And I don’t know how much you want to get into him specifically, but we can get into his like backstory too.

08:06
So that would be interesting. Where do you come from? I mean, how does a guy like this kind of West Virginia hillbilly if you will, maybe not a hillbilly but backwoods kind of a guy going to Pittsburgh people, anybody from West Virginia would have been some kind of hillbilly or backwoods kind of guy. Yeah. How did he get to this position where just by power have taken over everything in West Virginia.

08:28
So basically, he started out doing what they call like Mickey Mouse scores. His parents were Lebanese immigrants. And he started out as just basically a gambler or somebody who gambled and then he got involved in his own little operation. But he was involved in a lot of small time stuff, like I found a record where he robbed a grocery store. But as the 60s started to launch that was in the 50s, when he was doing small time. As the 60s Dawn, he started to get into bigger things. He was starting up his own gambling network, and he started clashing with a Greek racketeer, who was down in Wheeling who had basically ruled that place since prohibition, who had some connections to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, but it’s a little foggy, honestly, he seems to have acted alone a little more than Hankish would later on. Big Bill Elias was older when Hankish encountered him but still very much in control. And when Hankish started stepping on his toes, he took it seriously. Basically, in 1964, Paul Hankish was getting ready to leave his house and he walked over to his car, started up the car and there was a dynamite bomb inside of the engine block and the car exploded and shockwaves throughout the neighborhood, shattered some windows ships and buildings. And that was why is his way of saying hey, stay out of the rackets. You know, obviously you thought you would have been killed. But Hankish was tough and lucky and he was stuck in that burning wreck and the cops and firemen got there quickly and he was screaming for his life but got him out of there. And some say that he actually fingered Elias, and like the delirium of the post explosion. The cops actually said that you may have. But once he was recovering the hospital and he heard them talking about it, and he didn’t want the underworld reputation to be ruined as far as he was concerned, he wasn’t either. And so he put it out there immediately through his lawyer that he did not talk to anybody about anything. So he lost both of his legs. He was on crutches for the rest of his life in the physical rough and tumble world of organized crime where your powers and your fists sometimes and your physical strength, he really like had to double down and be extra tough to make it I think, and he did is after he got out of the hospital. He basically took over license rackets not killing handcuffs was the worst thing lies ever did. And I guess tried to get rid of lies. He had friends, Hankish. It’s not exactly clear to me how he obtained these friends, but he had friends in the Gambino family in the 60s later on. And they actually came by and tried to help him staked out last his house for a couple of days. But he basically never came out. And later on, Hankish learned that Elias was aware that there was a plot to kill him and that he was basically going to hunker down until it was done, and that law enforcement was getting wise to it as well. So you caught off the hit. And basically, Elias survived until 1971. He died of natural causes. But Hankish didn’t forget the beef even after he was dead. There’s a story that after the funeral, there’s prayer cards out and there’s a condolence book that Hank has had one of his associates steal those so that the family didn’t have those mementos.

11:33
Well, it’s really interesting about this, Paul Hankish and you guys that listening to this, go back and listen to my story with Steve St. John in the penitentiary, talking aboutLlefty Ruggerio. And what a one way guy was, he tells a really funny story about Paul Hankish wondering about Paul Hankish in the mob. He only hung out with mob guys when he was in the penitentiary. He knew what side of the bread got the butter, and that’s what Steve always hung out with the mob guys and Tony Salerno and God I think Tony Ducks Corolla were down there and Lefty Ruggerio and Paul Hankish and they all were sitting around one day and Hankish wheels in and Lefty Ruggerio says, you know, I don’t know if I ever trust you. And Hankish says, Well, what do you mean? He says, Well, I don’t think you’re a stand up guy. Lefty, I think you’ve gone too far this time. So go back and listen to that interview is really interesting interview with my friend Steve St. John. So thanks a lot for filling in on Paul Hankish. I’ve been intending on doing some background and find out about him for a while, it just seemed like I could this peckerwood as we call them, non Italians, I would be so connected. Well, obviously he was he’s connected to some Gambino people in New York. He’s connected to Pittsburgh family and this Mike Genovese. So he was a guy that do, like I said, which side of the bread got his butter? Now? Let’s go into the narcotics who was involved in that I believe I read that there was a Chucky Porter, who is underboss you’re getting stories about that out of your book?

13:03
Yes, for sure. Glad you asked about Chucky Porter. So Chucky Porter was in my opinion, he’s one of the main characters of the book for sure. One of the biggest players in the Pittsburgh mob in the 80s brewery, the second biggest player below Genovese. And he was also instrumental in the fall of family too. So a lot of these gangsters were from basically Pittsburgh’s Little Italy district had several little Italy’s, but one of them back in the day was called Larimer slash East liberty. And a lot of the original guys that guys were in hierarchy from that neighborhood. Poster was kind of the first person to sort of break into the hierarchy that was from outside of that. So he was from a different suburb, a different neighborhood. And he was 75%, Italian and 25%. Irish, as you can guess, from his last name wasn’t Italian last name. Luckily for him, the Pittsburgh family didn’t care much about that they were very into making their associates succeed, regardless of their ethnicity, because they knew that you basically have to work with what you have. There’s a criminal who’s not exactly Italian, you’re gonna work with them, but Porter did have 75%. So that was his entree because even an associate who had no time blood wasn’t gonna get made in Pittsburgh. That’s not going to happen. But he had some of that blood over half at least. And he started out life is a leg breaker for the man or, you know, brothers who were very powerful gangsters in New Kensington. Kelly Mannarino was the underboss until he died in 1980. And under La Rocca, and that’s a good sponsor to have and they trusted him with water sensitive work. He ran Camlin clubs before he got made. He was basically in charge of like a group of drug dealers who were working with him. They had a cocaine connection down in Florida that was basically importing Colombian cocaine. Guy was named Ramon Sosa And they had another connection down there too. And they were pouring 1000s of kilos into the Pittsburgh area eventually and a lot of that business, it started to gain law enforcement attention, right. But despite that quarter was very close to Mike Genovese and John Larocca. He was photographed meeting with John :aRocca at his headquarters, which was at Allegheny carwash, if you can believe it, very low key guy. And then once LaRocca died, Genovese pushed to the head of the line to get made, he got made 1986. And in 1987, the underboss at the time, a guy named JoJo Pecora died, and Porter was immediately promoted under boss. And it seems like after how I had just had recently had a conversation with a former mob associate, who basically said that when Porter showed up, started showing up at this camp that they had up in the woods where they would hunt, discuss business sometimes, that a lot of the old timers at camp are a little bit kind of concerned about Chucky Porter because of the truck connection. And plus, he was a new guy who new to them anyway. He’d been around for a while but newly made and he was not really looked upon with the complete trust because he wasn’t from that old neighborhood too. But he gained acceptance from the person who counted which was the boss and he became the underboss. And long story short, all that drunk stuff that he was doing before he was under boss and which he continued to do to a certain extent while he was under boss came back to bite him because people started to get arrested. Some of them turned in foreman. And in 1990, there was a big trial Pittsburghers the biggest organized crime trial they had. And him and his partner in crime, who was also high ranking member named Lou Rouchi. They had met with Genovese every single day, they were definitely the most powerful members of their family at that time. Middle management, if you will, they were indicted along with a bunch of other people. And the people who were testifying against them were mostly drug dealers, they had under them. And they both got over 20 years. And Porter, in the end, decided to cooperate. And he wasn’t a government witness who testified he was a informant from prison. So for like seven, eight years, he was in prison. And the Pittsburgh family was keeping them updated on some things. And other crime family members who were hanging out with him in the prison because he was a pretty likable guy. According to all the people who talked to him, even law enforcement kind of liked them. He was very personable. When they interviewed him, he was like the perfect informant. And in the end, he stopped six murders from happening, mob assassinations, he was made aware of they fixed holes in the witness protection program, because of him that allowed people to get information they shouldn’t. And he was a key figure in the fall the family, including given them reporting on Youngstown, which later on that crew blew up as well in the late 90s. So he was pretty important in the early days and later on at the end. Well, sounds like your books gonna have a lot of interesting stuff at it, because I know you’ve got a lot more about that guy. I know you do. Tell me one other thing about that guy. How was he distributed in his cocaine? Did he have connections in the black community? Because during these times, this is the 90s and crack just blew up in the inner city. And it all came from the powder cocaine did the black contingency in Pittsburgh habits own connection? Or was it all coming through the mob? So I’ll be honest with you, I’m not completely sure. I know that Nick the Blade Guesale that we talked about, he was selling to a lot of different people. But I’m not aware of every one of those customers. And the Pittsburgh mom’s connections within the city of Pittsburgh weren’t too strong with black criminal circles. Only references I found were that the black gambling operators were paying the Pittsburgh mob back in the 60s for sure. And that the Pittsburgh mob is a little bit worried at that time that they were going to tell them to screw off and stuff that revenue stream. I never saw specifically the drug connections now. It would make sense that some of that would make its way over there, but I don’t have anything directly said

19:10
okay, yeah, I just saw one time I made an observation. There was a mob associate here in Kansas City that had a pretty good cocaine operation going and he was meeting with some guys and it was a real quick little thing and they saw me and they all scattered. There’s something funny going on. There’s about four black guys it looked somewhat successful. I didn’t recognize any of them. They’re going to meet in this guy and then all of a sudden like I said they saw me and they scattered like a covey of quail. I never knew they were so they probably did so to a greater or lesser extent. So everything that the old time mobsters warned the younger guys about doing these drug operations all came through in Pittsburgh and they started giving me had drug addicts notorious. They’re probably gonna rat and then they start ratting on the bigger guys and they’re getting such draconian sentencing By this point in time that they haven’t said need to talk to, it’s not like they’re getting a tray as a guy told me I can do a tray standard on my head. They’re not getting a tray back into deucer tray or five years they’re getting 25 years or something, then you’ll get somebody testify against their mother on that. But that’s really interesting. Now he was informing to get a reduction in his sentence or to get an early release. He was informed while he was in the penitentiary. That is interesting. I’ve never heard of that before.

20:30
Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. And they could really use him against his old boss, Mike Genovese, because he had perjured himself a lot at his trial, his defense lawyer, went up to him and rattled off every story that was told on the stand, which there are a lot of them. And Chuckie Porter to say, no, that’s not true. That’s not true. It wasn’t that good of a strategy. And it did like really lousy job of helping Porter because he got that big sentence Grover, like he got to actually get 28 years. But it did a great job of helping his boss really because his boss was never convicted of anything because they could not use Porter and trial. And Porter was really Genovese, it insulated themselves so well, that he was really only using Porter during that timeframe for money and things like that. According to the FBI and the Pennsylvania State authorities. Genovese really wasn’t convicted of anything major during his whole career. In fact, no Pittsburgh boss was convicted of anything major, all the way back to the 20s. They’ve never went to prison really for a long time at all. That is one of the unique things about it. The family was hurt pretty badly by law enforcement, but the bosses remain safe. They were smart, secretive enough.

21:41
So what’s the status of the Pittsburgh family today? Is there one?

21:44
I don’t think so. There’s definitely still some associates running around like probably doing gambling or recent busts. Just like in the past three, four years, have some old time associates that were doing some illegal gambling but other than that, the last mate guy died in 2021. It was this guy named Thomas Sonny Ciancutti. And he seems to have been pretty active in gambling up until the end and was probably getting envelopes from associates. There’s an FBI Doc’s in 2017. That was somebody else got my found it. That was like city contract work scam that was going on, apparently, and two of the associates are talking on the phone, and they mentioned his nickname. So you might have been involved in something like that too. But pretty minimal activity. As far as I’m concerned. There’s some people who call him the last Don, but he was the last Don with no made members under him. So I don’t consider him that. Mike Genovese died 2006. And I consider him to be the last Godfather.

22:44
Paul, this has really been interesting. Now remind us the name of your book.

22:48
Sure. It’s Steel City Mafia: Blood Betrayal and Pittsburgh’s Last Don last on. And that comes out on April 17. And what will be all the regular places Amazon? It’ll be in bookstores like the Pittsburgh region

23:01
sounds like a great read you guys. You probably if you care about the Pittsburgh crime family and all you want to get that I know Rob star will. I know I’ve got one guy out there, but we’ll definitely get it. I’ll make sure he knows. So Paul Hodos, I really appreciate you coming on and tell us about the Pittsburgh mob.

23:19
Thank you so much, Gary. It was great to be here. And it’s really great. Like I’m a fan of your show. And now I’m on it and I really can’t believe it. So I love it.

23:27
Great. Great. All right. Always like to hear from fans. All right, you guys. Don’t forget I like to ride motorcycles. So watch out for motorcycles when you’re out there on those streets. And if you have a problem with PTSD, go to the VA website and get that hotline number. If you have problem drugs or alcohol get hold of our friend Anthony Ruggerio. If you’re on YouTube, you’ll see that there’s a hotline that he’s got. Thanks a lot, Paul, for coming on.

23:50
Thanks so much.

 

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