Unione Siciliana

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The Unione Siciliana (often incorrectly called Unione Siciliane), later renamed as Italian-American National Union, was a Sicilian-American (and afterly generally Italian-American) fraternal organization which eventually was rumored to have controlled much of the Italian American vote within the United States during the early twentieth century. During Prohibition the organization was a major source of conflict as underworld figures fought to control the highly influential organization through a series of puppet presidents largely controlled by the Chicago Outfit. The organization was active from the 1890s to the 1940s, by which time it had few members. The organization was dissolved in 1941.

Early history[edit]

The Unione was created by Sicilian immigrant businessmen in Chicago in 1893 and was incorporated by the State of Illinois as a fraternal association with the right to sell insurance in 1895. Its primary purpose was to provide insurance to immigrants who recently immigrated from Sicily, since working conditions in the 1890s were often dangerous or even primitive by current standards. Eventually chapters spread from Chicago to the rest of Illinois, and from there to Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. Outside of Illinois, however, membership remained small.

Myths about the Unione[edit]

Some earlier works on the Mafia and organized crime claim that in the early 1910s, mobster Ignazio "the Wolf" Lupo infiltrated the Unione. He eventually brought it under the control of the Morello crime family through a ruthless campaign of murder and extortion. In 1914, Lupo became Unione president. Lupo would use the organization to expand racketeering, prostitution, extortion, kidnapping, and murder for hire into Italian-American neighborhoods. Installing meat hooks in his office, Lupo was said to have hung his victims on them. He is also alleged to have burned six political opponents alive in his basement furnace. In 1918, After Lupo's imprisonment, Frankie Yale, a New York mobster, would become president of the Unione. Yale would feud with former protegee and Chicago rival Al Capone for the presidency throughout the next ten years. This feud ended with Yale’s murder in 1927.

The reality is that there never were chapters in New York. Journalists and writers confused the nature of the Unione Siciliana with the Mafia and the Black Hand, and it was transmogrified to become the Unione Siciliane or Unione Sicilione. Neither name is correct Italian. Ignazio "Lupo the Wolf" Lupo was born Ignazio Lupo. His mother's maiden name was Lupo, and he was sent to Atlanta Federal Penitentiary for counterfeiting in 1910. There is no evidence that Frankie Yale had any connection to Lupo's Mafia organization. Since part of this myth is that only Sicilians were permitted to be members, the claim is contradicted by the fact that Yale was born in Longobucco, in the province of Cosenza, in the region of Calabria.[1]

During the time when Yale was said to be the supreme president, former judge Bernard Barasa held that position in Chicago since 1922 until the end of the decade. Like Yale, he was also non-Sicilian. He was born Bernard Philip Barasa in Michigan in 1878 to a father from Quassolo and a mother from Massachusetts. He attended the University of Michigan and graduated from Chicago's Kent College of Law in 1905. In Chicago he went from attorney to a Municipal Court judge before leading the Unione. He died in 1964.[2]

Corruption of the Unione[edit]

In the early 1900s the Unione took part in efforts to fight the Black Hand in Chicago. It failed in its endeavor. Later, the presidency of the Unione became a target for political power. Antonio D'Andrea was at that time the Chicago Mafia boss. He was an ex-priest who was arrested for counterfeiting in 1902. With the assistance of his family and supporters, he was released from prison after a short time. He worked as a professional translator and later as a court translator. In 1916 he ran for political office, but his criminal past, which he had kept hidden, was exposed. To gain additional strength from the local Italian power base, he ran and was elected president of the Chicago chapter of the Unione in or around 1919. In 1921 he ran against John Powers, who ended up with more Italian support than D'Andrea. After numerous bombings and killings from both of their followers, D'Andrea dropped out of the race. Nevertheless, he was shot and mortally wounded in May, 1921.

Michele Merlo, who went as Mike Merlo, a leader in D'Andrea's Mafia organization, made an emergency return from Italy, where he was vacationing, upon hearing of D'Andrea's death. According to Nicola Gentile, he ordered the death of D'Andrea's assassin. For this act he not only took control of the Chicago Mafia, but replaced D'Andrea as president of the Unione as well.[3] His brief term was regarded as a successful one, and he was noted to have kept the criminal organizations of John Torrio and Dean O'Banion from warring with each other.

Following Merlo's death from cancer in 1924, the chapter organization (later renamed the "Italo-American National Union") split into several factions as various underworld groups struggled for control of the organization. Of these factions, "Bloody" Angelo Genna claimed the presidency following Merlo's death; however, he was murdered the following year by members of the North Side Gang. Genna's successor, Samuzzo "Samoots" Amatuna, would be killed (allegedly) by Northsider Vincent "The Schemer" Drucci in a barbershop that same year.

While the myth has it that Capone had amassed enough power in Chicago to place Antonio Lombardo as head of the Unione Siciliane," Lombardo was believed by to have been chosen by outside Mafia leaders for his abilities as a peacemaker. Lombardo, who was from eastern Sicily, together with Supreme President Bernard Barasa, agreed to change the name to the Italo-American National Union to increase awareness that the association was not only for Sicilians. Lombardo held considerable influence in Italian-American communities including acting as a negotiator between [Black Hand] kidnappers and victim's families. It is traditionally believed that although he was supported by Capone, many members of the organization opposed his reforms as a faction under Capone rival Joe [Aiello] challenged Lombardo, calling for his withdrawal from office. Lombardo's refusal would result in his death on September 7, 1928. According to Nick Gentile, however, Aiello was Lombardo's underboss and Capone was given permission by Joseph Masseria (a boss of one of New York's Five Families and soon a "Boss of Bosses") to eliminate both Aiello and Lombardo. Gentile believed Capone was responsible for Lombardo's death.[4]

The brother Lombardo's bodyguard Pasqualino "Patsy" Lolordo would assume the presidency in his brother's place for around four months until his own murder by Joe Aiello and his two brothers after inviting them for dinner at his home on January 8, 1929. Claiming the presidency the next day, Aiello would reportedly hold the office for a year and a half until his death by Chicago Outfit gunman on October 23, 1930. In fact he may never have held office.

Recent history[edit]

The association continued with corrupt influence in its leadership for many years. Phil D'Andrea, a nephew of Antonio D'Andrea, served as supreme president while active in the former Capone organization then led by Frank Nitti. Attorney Joseph Bulger led the association for several years. Born Giuseppe Imburgio, he was close to Tony Accardo and was killed in a plane accident in 1966.[5] After state investigators rooted out its corrupt influences in the 1950s, its membership continued to decline in the 1970s. The Unione eventually merged with the Italian Sons and Daughters of America.



Further reading[edit]

  • Capeci, Jerry. The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2002. ISBN 0-02-864225-2
  • United States. Congress. Senate. Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce. Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce: Hearings Before a Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce. 1951. [1]


  1. ^ This is confirmed by Yale's immigration records.
  2. ^ Giovanni Schiavo, Italians in Chicago: A Study in Americanization (Chicago: Italian American Publishing Company, 1928), 169; genealogical records.
  3. ^ Nick Gentile with Felice Chilante, Vita di Capomafia (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1963)
  4. ^ Nick Gentile with Felice Chilante, Vita di Capomafia (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1963)
  5. ^ "Bulger Body Flown Home After Crash," Chicago Tribune, 4 Dec 1966
  • Fox, Stephen. Blood and Power: Organized Crime in Twentieth-Century America. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1989. ISBN 0-688-04350-X
  • Kelly, Robert J. Encyclopedia of Organized Crime in the United States. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000. ISBN 0-313-30653-2
  • Nelli, Humbert S. The Business of Crime: Italians and Syndicate Crime in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. ISBN 0-226-57132-7
  • Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8160-5694-3
  • Warner, Richard N. "The Dreaded D'Andrea: The Former Priest Who Became the Windy City's Most Feared Mafia Boss." Informer 2:2 (April, 2009), 4-31.

External links[edit]