Santo Trafficante Jr.
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|Santo Trafficante Jr.|
November 15, 1914|
Tampa, Florida, U.S.
|Died||March 17, 1987
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Santo Trafficante Jr. (November 15, 1914 – March 17, 1987) was one of the last of the old-time Mafia bosses in the United States. He allegedly controlled organized criminal operations in Florida and Cuba, which had previously been consolidated from several rival gangs by his father, Santo Trafficante Sr. Reputedly the most powerful mafioso in Batista-era Cuba, he never served time in a United States prison.
Trafficante maintained links to the Bonanno family, in New York City, but was more closely allied with Sam Giancana, in Chicago. Consequently, while generally recognized as the most powerful organized crime figure in Florida throughout much of the 20th century, Trafficante was not believed to have total control over Miami, Miami Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, or Palm Beach. The east coast of Florida was a loosely knit conglomerate of New York family interests with obvious links to Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Angelo Bruno, Carlos Marcello, Leo Stein and Frank Ragano.
He admitted his anti-Castro activities to the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978. Though he vehemently denied any association with a conspiracy against President John F. Kennedy, at least one witness before federal investigators testified that Trafficante predicted the assassination in spring of 1963. Federal investigators brought racketeering and conspiracy charges against him in summer of 1986.
U.S. Treasury Department documents indicate that law enforcement believed Trafficante's legitimate business interests to include several legal casinos in Cuba; a Havana drive-in movie theater; and shares in the Columbia Restaurant and several other restaurants and bars in Tampa. He was rumored to be part of a Mafia syndicate which owned many other Cuban hotels and casinos. As one of the most powerful mobsters in the U.S., Trafficante was invited to the Havana Conference in December, 1946.
Trafficante was arrested frequently throughout the 1950s on various charges of bribery and of running illegal bolita lotteries in Tampa's Ybor City district. He escaped conviction all but once, receiving a five-year sentence, in 1954, for bribery, but his conviction was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court before he entered prison.
During the rule of Cuban dictator Batista, Trafficante openly operated the Sans Souci and the Casino International gambling establishments in Havana. As a leading member of the syndicate, it was suspected that he also had behind-the-scenes interests in other syndicate-owned Cuban gambling casinos namely, the Hotel Habana Riviera, the Tropicana Club, the Sevilla-Biltmore, the Capri Hotel Casino, the Commodoro, the Deauville, and the Havana Hilton. Nightly, Batista's "bagman" would collect 10 percent of the profits at Trafficante's casinos.
Trafficante was arrested in 1957, along with 56 other mobsters, at an apparent underworld convention, the Apalachin Meeting in New York. Charges were later dropped, though authorities believe the meeting was set up, among other things, to fill the power vacuum created by the recent assassination of Murder, Inc. head Albert Anastasia. Trafficante later denied knowledge of the circumstances of Anastasia's death.
In January 1958, Trafficante was questioned by the Cuban National police regarding the Apalachin meeting. A full report was made by the Cuban police dated January 23, 1958 that includes transcripts of long distance telephone calls made from the Sans Souci during the period August–December 1957. This report was given to the District Attorney’s office. In addition, “on January 23, 1958 the Cuban Department of Investigation, Havana, Cuba notified the Bureau of Narcotics that Santo Trafficante was registered in their Alien Office under No. 93461.”
Plot to assassinate Castro
After Fidel Castro's revolutionary government seized the assets of Trafficante's Cuban businesses and expelled him from the country as an "undesirable alien," Trafficante came into contact with various U.S. intelligence operatives, and was involved in several unsuccessful plans to assassinate Castro. Allusions to these historic connections were confirmed by the Central Intelligence Agency's 2007 declassification of the "Family Jewels" documents.
Additional details of the plots have been revealed in various releases of documents. Government documents declassified in 1997 indicated that some Mafiosi worked with the CIA on assassination attempts against Cuban leader Fidel Castro. CIA documents released in 2007 confirmed that in the summer of 1960, the CIA recruited ex-FBI agent Robert Maheu to approach the West Coast representative of the Chicago mob, Johnny Roselli. When Maheu contacted Roselli, Maheu hid the fact that he was sent by the CIA, instead portraying himself an advocate for international corporations. He offered to pay $150,000 to have Castro killed, but Roselli declined any pay. Roselli introduced Maheu to two men he referred to as "Sam Gold" and "Joe." "Sam Gold" was Sam Giancana; "Joe" was Santo Trafficante Jr., the Tampa, Florida, boss and one of the most powerful mobsters in pre-revolution Cuba. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post explained: "After Fidel Castro led a revolution that toppled a friendly government in 1959, the CIA was desperate to eliminate him. So the agency sought out a partner equally worried about Castro—the Mafia, which had lucrative investments in Cuban casinos."
JFK conspiracy allegations
In 1976, Cuban exile and FBI informant Jose Aleman told George Crile III of The Washington Post that Trafficante requested a meeting in September 1962 to offer Aleman a loan of "$1.5 million to replace the ramshackle motel with a 12-story glass wonder." He said that at the meeting Trafficante complained about the honesty of the Kennedys and their "attacks" on Jimmy Hoffa and his other associates. According to Aleman, when he told Trafficante that Kennedy would likely be re-elected, Trafficante replied, "No, Jose, he is going to be hit." Crile wrote that Aleman said he reported this to his FBI contacts who "dismissed the Kennedy warnings as gangland braggadocio."
In 1978, both Trafficante and Aleman were called to testify before members of the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations investigating possible links between Lee Harvey Oswald and anti-Castro Cubans, including the theory that Cuban leader Fidel Castro had President John F. Kennedy killed in retaliation for the CIA's attempts to assassinate Castro. On September 27, 1978, Aleman reiterated to HSCA investigators that Trafficante complained to him for hours about Kennedy's crackdown on organized crime at a meeting to discuss a business loan; he estimated the date as of the meeting as June or July 1963. The HSCA had previously quoted Aleman as stating that he thought Trafficante's use of the phrase "he is going to be hit" meant that the mob boss knew Kennedy was going to be killed. When this was pointed out, Aleman denied that he meant that he believed Kennedy was going to murdered and said he thought that Trafficante meant that Kennedy was going to be "hit" politically during the next election. He stated that he was concerned for his safety and was not certain that he had ever correctly heard or understood Trafficante's comment.
After a grant of immunity from prosecution, Trafficante testified before the HSCA the following day, September 28, and refuted the allegation that he told Aleman that "Kennedy was going to be hit". He stated that he was positive that he did not say it because he always spoke to Aleman in Spanish, and said that there was no way to state the phrase in Spanish. Trafficante also stated that he had no recollection of meeting Jack Ruby or Oswald. During his testimony, Trafficante also admitted for the first time that he had worked with the CIA from 1960 to 1961 for an attempt to poison Castro, but stated that his role was only as an interpreter between CIA officials and Cuban exiles. He testified that he was brought into the plot by organized crime figures Sam Giancana and John Roselli who had been recruited by former FBI agent Robert Maheu. Trafficante said that he introduced the trio to Cuban exiles in Florida. He stated that he received no payment for his involvement and that he acted out of patriotism.
Trafficante was summoned to court in 1986 and questioned about his involvement with the King's Court nightclub operated by members of the Bonanno family from New York, including undercover FBI agent Joseph D. "Joe" Pistone, alias, Donnie Brasco. Trafficante again escaped conviction.
Trafficante's health had declined in his later years. He died on March 17, 1987 at the age of 72.
- "With Santo Trafficante, an era is ending". St. Petersburg Independent. St. Petersburg, Florida. August 1, 1983. p. 5-A. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
- Myers, Laura (July 2, 1997). "Not just another federal contractor". The Idaho Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington: William Stacey Cowles. AP. p. A2. Retrieved August 5, 2014.
- Memorandum for the Director of Central Intelligence, Subject: Roselli, Johnny, November 19, 1970.
- Douglass 2010, p. 34.
- Kessler, Glenn (June 27, 2007). "Trying to Kill Fidel Castro". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
- Crile III, George (May 16, 1976). "The Mafia, The CIA, And Castro". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. p. C4. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
- "Witness denies assassination, Cuba tied". Eugene Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon. UPI. September 28, 1978. p. 8A. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
- "Mafia Linked In JFK Probe; By Cuban Exile". Observer-Reporter. Washington, Pennsylvania. AP. September 28, 1978. p. A-10. Retrieved April 12, 2015.
- 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 M. Deitche, Barricade Books ISBN 1-56980-322-6
- Mob Lawyer (1996), Frank Ragano, Random House ISBN 0-517-16722-0
- "White Shadow", (2006) Ace Atkins, (G.P. Putnam) ISBN 0-399-15355-1
- Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia. Joseph D. Pistone(1987)
- Associated Press report on Trafficante's death
- Short history of the Mafia in Tampa
-  "Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life" By Robert Lacy
- "Santo Trafficante Jr.". Find a Grave. Retrieved June 12, 2013.
Santo Trafficante Sr.
|Trafficante crime family