|This article relies on references to primary sources. (January 2013)|
January 25, 1923|
Ybor City, Florida, U.S.
|Died||May 13, 1998
Tampa, Florida, U.S.
|Occupation||criminal defense lawyer|
Frank Ragano (January 25, 1923 - May 13, 1998) was a self-styled "mob lawyer" from Florida, who made his name representing organized crime figures such as Santo Trafficante, Jr. and Carlos Marcello, and also served as lawyer for Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. In his 1994 autobiography Mob Lawyer, Ragano recounted his career in defending members of organized crime, and made the controversial allegation that Florida mob boss Santo Trafficante, Jr. confessed to him shortly before he died in 1987 that he and Carlos Marcello had arranged for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. These Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories have been called into serious question by others.
Born in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida to Sicilian parents, Ragano attended Stetson Law School and clerked for the Florida Supreme Court before admission to the Florida Bar in 1952 and beginning his trial practice in Tampa, Florida. In 1954 he was recruited by another attorney to represent several defendants arrested in Tampa for involvement in Santo Trafficante, Jr.'s illegal bolita operations. He immediately befriended Trafficante, who thereafter admitted him into the inner circles of Florida's organized crime scene.
Ragano became a frequent visitor to Trafficante's Havana nightclubs. During one such visit, Trafficante told Ragano that in 1957 he and others had set up then Senator John F. Kennedy in a Havana hotel room with several prostitutes, and that Trafficante rued the day he had failed to preserve the moment in secret surveillance tapes that could have been used for bribery purposes.
In 1959, after Fidel Castro overthrew the Fulgencio Batista regime in Cuba, Trafficante's casinos were closed down and he was imprisoned by the new government. Ragano worked on various attempts to free Trafficante, who was released in early 1960 and returned to the United States.
Hoffa and Marcello
In 1960, thanks to Trafficante's recommendations, Ragano was hired by Jimmy Hoffa to represent him on union corruption charges, thus beginning a long association with the infamous labor leader. He used his position with Hoffa to help place loans from the Teamsters' pension funds in return for "finder's fees." Liberace, the entertainer, was one such client for whom he attempted to get a Teamsters' loan. Ragano witnessed kickbacks of millions of dollars to Hoffa from the Teamsters' pension fund.
In 1963, again on Trafficante's recommendation, Ragano began serving as attorney for Carlos Marcello, the head of the New Orleans crime family. In his book, Ragano claimed that Hoffa, who was being hounded by Attorney General Robert Kennedy on corruption and jury tampering charges, asked him to convey a message to Trafficante and Marcello that an assassination of President Kennedy should be arranged. When Kennedy was shot and killed later that year, Ragano wrote that Hoffa always assumed that Trafficante and Marcello had actually carried out such a plan. Trafficante did "celebrate" with Ragano upon hearing word of Kennedy's assassination, but made no admission to Ragano at that time that he was in any way involved. He did tell Ragano later that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had once asked him for help in assassinating Castro in Cuba.
In 1975, Ragano was asked by Trafficante to convey an urgent message to Hoffa to 'be very careful and not take any chances." Within days, Hoffa disappeared under mysterious circumstances, never to be found.
In 1966, while representing Trafficante in connection with an arrest of several top mobsters in New York City, Ragano was photographed having lunch with Trafficante, Marcello and others, and was identified by Time magazine as a "top Cosa Nostra hoodlum." He later sued Time for libel and was represented by famed trial lawyer Melvin Belli. During the libel trial he was called "house counsel for the mob." He lost his suit. Belli had previously represented Jack Ruby, the man who killed Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused killer of Kennedy, and Ragano claimed that Trafficante warned him not to ask Belli any questions about Ruby.
In connection with an incident made famous in the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas, Ragano helped represent four mobsters, including "Jimmy the Gent" Burke and Henry Hill, charged in 1972 with extortion in collecting a gambling debt in Tampa, Florida.
Ragano himself became the accused when he was charged with tax evasion in 1972. Although his conviction was reversed on appeal, he was later retried and convicted on related charges. As a result, he was suspended from the practice of law in 1976, and claims that Trafficante provided no support and abandoned him.
In 1978 Ragano testified before the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which was reinvestigating the Kennedy assassination, and he denied any involvement in any JFK plots. In 1981 Ragano was reinstated as an attorney by The Florida Bar, and eventually made amends with Trafficante, whom he then represented in 1986 in a racketeering case also made famous in a film, Donnie Brasco. Trafficante, who was also represented by others, was acquitted of all charges.
In 1990, Ragano was again convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to prison. Frank Ragano died in his sleep on May 13, 1998 in Tampa. He was survived by his wife and five children. In 1995, the A&E Network aired an episode of American Justice devoted to his career as a "defender of the mob."
JFK assassination claims
In his 1994 autobiography, Ragano said that he relayed a request from Hoffa to Trafficante and Marcello asking that the two Mafia bosses kill Kennedy.
Although Ragano believed he had received a few hints from both Trafficante and Marcello that they had somehow been involved in the Kennedy assassination, it was not until just before he died in 1987 that Trafficante, according to Ragano, made a direct confession to him. Ragano wrote that on March 13, 1987, a dying Trafficante (he died four days later) asked to meet him in Tampa for a hurried meeting. While riding in Ragano's car, Trafficante allegedly told Ragano in Sicilian: "Carlos e' futtutu. Non duvevamu ammazzari a Giovanni. Duvevamu ammazzari a Bobby," which Ragano translated as: "Carlos screwed up. We shouldn't have killed John. We should have killed Bobby."
This was later found to be a complete fabrication by Ragano, because hospital records proved that Trafficante was in Miami receiving dialysis several times that week. The day that Ragano claimed to have talked to him was one of the days he was actually receiving dialysis. Hospital personnel, neighbors, and friends who all visited the afternoon before he left for Houston from Miami could also confirm this. The evening before leaving for Houston, because of his weakened condition, Mr. Trafficante was driven to the Miami airport by his goddaughter, so that she could help Mrs. Trafficante with securing a wheelchair and other boarding procedures.
This claim by Ragano, seemingly pointing to a successful mob plot to assassinate JFK, has come under much criticism. In his book Reclaiming History: the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Vincent Bugliosi has pointed out many flaws in Ragano's claims, including the fact that Trafficante was most likely not in Tampa on the day in question, but was rather in North Miami Beach receiving dialysis treatments.
Bugliosi based much of his conclusions on the research of author Anthony Summers. Summers reviewed medical records and talked to Trafficante's family, neighbors and friends, and discounted the idea that Trafficante could have been in Tampa on the day in question. When Summers talked to Ragano about these problems, Ragano told Summers that he could produce three witnesses who could prove his story, but never did so.
Both Trafficante and Marcello were very private individuals. The House Select Committee on Assassinations in its 1978 Final Report noted specifically that Trafficante was a very "discreet" individual who was unlikely to have made such an admission. Bugliosi argues that it is absurd to think that Marcello and Trafficante would get involved in plotting to assassinate a president, particularly as nothing more than a supposed favor to Jimmy Hoffa. Bugliosi also points out that by allegedly conveying a message in 1963 to that effect, and by relating this confession from an alleged conspirator, Ragano would himself be admitting to having been a part of a murder conspiracy.
When Ragano was questioned by the Assassination Records Review Board, created in 1992 to reexamine JFK conspiracy theories after the release of the Oliver Stone film JFK, he claimed to have contemporaneous notes of his conversations regarding the JFK plot, but when they were produced, "he could not definitively state whether the notes were taken during the meetings [with mob figures]... or later when he was working on his book." His notes were subjected to Secret Service tests to determine when they were actually prepared, but the results were inconclusive.
Billy Jean King-Bobby Riggs Allegations
In August, 2013, The Tampa Tribune newspaper and ESPN published allegations by a former employee of the Palma Ceia Country Club in Tampa, claiming that in 1973 the employee overheard Ragano, Trafficante and Marcello discussing plans by Bobby Riggs to throw the famed tennis match with female tennis star Billie Jean King. That year, Riggs and King held a nationally televised tennis match called "The Battle of the Sexes," in which King beat Riggs in three straight sets after Riggs had taunted female tennis players and had beaten Margaret Court. According to Hal Shaw, a former employee of the Palma Ceia Golf & Country Club (an exclusive private club near downtown Tampa, Florida), he overheard Ragano tell Trafficante and Marcello that Riggs owed over $100,000 to the mob, and that in exchange for throwing the match his debt would be absolved.
Chris Ragano, a Tampa attorney and son of Frank Ragano, responded to these allegations by stating that the Ragano family did not move to Tampa until 1979. Further, Hal Shaw's recollection that he gave tennis lessons to Frank Ragano's wife was not confirmed by Mrs. Ragano, who has no recollection of any such lessons in Tampa. Trafficante and Marcello were not known to frequent the Palma Ceia Country Club, preferring meetings at Malio's Steakhouse in Tampa or La Tropicana Cafe in Ybor City to discuss mob business.
Selwyn Raab, who co-authored Mob Lawyer with Ragano, when told of these allegations, stated that no mention was ever made by Ragano about this in any of his notes or in the FBI files. "It's kind of a good story. I don't think (Ragano) would have excluded it."
Mob Lawyer (1994), Frank Ragano and Selwyn Raab, Charles Scribner's Sons, ISBN 0-684-19568-2
Cigar City Mafia: A Complete History of the Tampa Underworld (2004), Scott M. Deitche, Barricade Books, ISBN 1-56980-266-1
The Silent Don: The Criminal Underworld of Santo Trafficante, Jr. (2007), Scott Deitche, Barricade Books, ISBN 1-56980-322-6
Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (2007), Vincent Bugliosi, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., ISBN 978-0-393-04525-3
- Mob Lawyer (1994) Frank Ragano & Selwyn Raab, Charles Scribner's Sons, p. 19.
- Id. at pp.10-19.
- Id. at p. 12.
- Id. at pp. 39-40.
- Id. at pp. 55-60.
- Id. at pp. 87-90.
- Id. at p. 168.
- Holcomb Noble, "New York Times," May 18, 1998.
- Mob Lawyer at pp. 134-135.
- Id. at pp. 144-146.
- Id. at p. 150.
- Id. at pp. 147-148.
- Id. at pp. 209-210.
- Id. at pp. 274-275.
- Id. at p. 205.
- Time, Inc. v. Ragano, 427 F.2d 219 (5th Cir. 1970).
- Mob Lawyer at p. 247.
- Id. at p. 241.
- Id. at p. 242.
- Id. at pp. 290-293.
- Id. at pp. 294-296.
- Id. at p. 304.
- Id. at pp. 326-327.
- Id. at p. 332.
- Id. at 365.
- Holcomb Noble, New York Times, May 18, 1998.
- "Defending the Mob," American Justice, Episode 31, March 5, 1995.
- Noble, Holcomb B. (May 18, 1998). "Frank Ragano, 75, Lawyer for Mob and Hoffa". The New York Times. Retrieved June 5, 2014.
- Mob Lawyer at 348.
- Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (2007), Vincent Bugliosi, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., p. 1182.
- "The Ghosts of November," Summers & Summers, Vanity Fair, p. 106, December, 1994.
- House Select Committee on Assassinations Final Report (1978), p. 175.
- Reclaiming History at p. 1183.
- Id. at p. 1183.
- Assassination Records Review Board (September 30, 1998). "Chapter 6, Part I: The Quest for Additional Information and Records in Federal Government Offices" (pdf). Final Report of the Assassination Records Review Board. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. p. 134. Retrieved March 3, 2013.