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Jan. 17, 2022

Uncle Sam Needs You - Cuba, The Mafia, Castro & JFK


In this episode, we will be discussing the Mafia's role in Cuba, the various plots to kill Castro and theories about the assassination of President Kennedy.

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Questions or comments, email lara@doubledealpodcast.com or nina@doubledealpodcast.com

Thank you for listening!

All the best,

Lara & Nina

Transcript

Lara:

 

Hi everyone! Since Jack Kelley and Pro Lerner were both rumored to have been approached by the CIA to kill Castro, and dad and the rest of his crew made multiple appearances in the FBI 302s released as part of the JFK Assasisnation documents, we felt it would be appropriate to dedicate an episode to those rumors and those rumored to be part of some of those plots. As I’ve mentioned in previous episodes, when I was a kid I frequently heard chatter about how the CIA approached Jack to use his crew, including dad, to take out Castro.Like most of the things I overheard, I’d mumble to myself, “yeah ok” and shrug it off as delusional. But in the late 90s when the first documents were released, and I became more interested in dad’s colorful past, I realized there was some validity to those sometimes insane stories.



Nina:

 

We’ll be discussing Sam Giancana, Richard Cain, and Dominick Bartone, among others, and of course the mob’s relationship with Cuba. I think we should discuss the casinos in Cuba first as it’s the link to both sets of conspiracy theories about plans to assassinate Castro and the assasination of JFK.



Lara:

 

Two of the biggest names in the casino industry in Havana were Meyer Lansky and Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Both of these men assisted the ONI (Office of Naval intelligence) during WWII by enlisting wise guys to help keep the docks safe. But Lansky made releasing Luciano from prison part of the protection agreement. They recruited Joseph Lanza, a Sicilian born union organizer, to use his men to ensure that no Nazi sabotuers would infiltrate the port. 



Nina:

 

Soon after the end of the War, Luciano was deported and returned to his native Sicily. Then in 1946 he returned to the Western Hemisphere for the Havana Conference. It was the largest gathering of mobsters since the Atlantic City Conference of 1929. Luciano convened the meeting on December 20th. Representatives from New York City, New Jersey, Buffalo, Chicago, New Orleans and Florida were in attendance. It wasn’t just Mafia members but also representatives of the Jewish Syndicate. A separate meeting was held amongst the Mafia members to discuss the position of capo di tutti capi, the boss of all bosses. The last one to hold that position was Salvatore Maranzano who was killed in September of 1931. The position was replaced by “The Commission” which served as a board of directors minus a CEO.

Lara:

 

But Luciano wanted to retain the position as the boss. Vito Genovese had other ideas.He allegedly put the idea to a vote. His ally, Albert Anastasia, seconded the motion. Frank Costello also agreed as behind the scenes they would rule as a triumvirate. Genovese was cornered and not only agreed, but also agreed to settle his beef with Anastasia. 

 

Some of our locals also made the trip to Havana while Luciano was still there. In February of 1947, Butsey Morelli, who we’ll be talking about in next week’s episode, went to Havana with two New Yorkers, Philip Lombardo and Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno. 



Nina:

 

Gambling and the casinos weren’t the only topic of discussion. The international narcotics trade was also on the table. Luciano had been a small-time peddler in his teens before graduating to trafficking heroin in the 1920s. Cuba would be the distribution point for the US. One of Luciano’s partners in narcotics was Joseph Profaci. Profaci was once the largest importer of olive oil and tomato paste in the US, and used his import business to smuggle narcotics for decades. Gaetano "Tommy Brown" Lucchese controlled the heroin distribution in Harlem. And last but not least, Joseph "Joe Bananas" Bonanno. He, along with his cousin, Buffalo boss Stefano Magaddino, made the American Mafia’s expansion into Canada possible through the heroin trade. 



Lara:

 

Like the casino industry with the fall of Batista, the heroin trade would need to find a new outlet. Meyer Lansky had been dealing with Batista since his first trip there in 1933 with several suitcases of large bills. It would be nearly 10 years before Batista managed to overthrow the government in a military coup. During that time period Vegas had caught the eye of the Syndicate. Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegal was moved out West to oversee the race wire service, the heroin trade through Mexico and the completion of the Flamingo Hotel which opened its doors 6 days after the Havana Conference.



Nina:

 

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 1958. Castro had been waging a guerilla war against the Batista Regime since 1956. The mob had actually been shipping arms to both sides in the conflict. Their hope was that whoever won in the end would be grateful and they’d still be able to use Cuba for their various interests. 

 

Castro ultimately overthrew Batista’s government in another military coup. This event would cost the syndicate tens of millions of dollars in annual revenue. But it wasn’t just the mob that was heavily invested in Cuba. In the late 1950s, U.S. companies owned 90% of Cuban mines, 80% of its public utilities, 50% of its railways, 40% of its sugar production and 25% of its bank deposits. ITT Corporation even presented Batista with a Golden Telephone. According to then Senator JFK  it was as an "expression of gratitude" for the "excessive telephone rate increase.”

 

But in early 1959, the mafia still thought that they could use the situation to their advantage, and hoped that Castro could be bribed. 



Lara:

 

Enter Dominick Edward Bartone. A gangster whose Mafia ties reputedly went back to the days of Al Capone, Bartone was a burly man with thick black hair and dark eyes—a “typical hoodlum appearance,” according to his FBI file. He classified people as either “solid” or “suckers.” He was closely allied with the head of the Teamsters, Jimmy Hoffa, whom he called “the greatest fella in the world.” Bartone was also a known associate of Santo Trafficante.

 

During the Spring of 1959, Louis “Babe” Triscaro, the VP of the Ohio Conference of Teamsters, and a Hoffa guy, shuttled back and forth between his home city of Cleveland, Hoffa’s hotel and official headquarters in DC, Miami hotels, and Havana itself.



Nina:

 

Triscaro later claimed that he went to Havana and Miami with Bartone solely as a favor to Alvin Naiman, whom he had known from the time they were together in boxing in Cleveland in the 1930s. Naiman was the front man for Akros Dynamic, which had reportedly purchased some surplus Douglas C-74 Globemaster military cargo airplanes off of the Air Force. The Air Force had retired the planes because there were no spare parts, and the planes were deteriorating. But instead of selling them for scrap, they put them up for sale in 1957. 

 

Akros was established in April 1957 for the sole purpose of buying those planes. The auction was opened on July 19, 1957. The company was the only one to show up to the table, submitting a bid of $150,000 for seven of the aircraft, plus spare parts. The catalog clearly stated that the photos did not represent exactly what the Air Force was selling. The purchase did not include: radio equipment, autopilot, navigation equipment, engine analyzers and numerous other electronics. The Air Force was only selling the base aircraft, mechanical spares, and engines.





Lara:

 

Even so, the Air Force rejected the only bid they’d received, saying that the spare engines were worth at least half a million dollars. Akros increased their bid to a little over $1.5 million for all eleven aircraft plus three spare engines, which the Air Force ultimately accepted.

Through a series of events that is very convoluted and filled with goniffs and backstabbers, Akros had acquired exactly one C-74 by late March 1959. Hoffa had allegedly attempted to siphon three hundred thousand dollars from the Teamsters’ pension fund to float the deal, supposedly as a way to help out the mafia.

 

Babe Triscaro later told the Feds that he had met Dominick Edward Bartone in 1955 when Bartone was engaged in the trucking business, hauling sand and gravel during construction of the Ohio Turnpike. Their association at that time was chiefly that of employer (on Bartone’s side) and representative of employees (Babe’s role with the Teamsters). Triscaro stated that he knew nothing about Bartone’s background or family. 



Nina:

 

Bartone was keeping his background so secret, in fact, that he was living under an assumed name. Luigi Charles Abbruzzese had been born in Jersey City on August 8, 1913 to Eduardo Abbruzzese and Giovannina Liberatore. The oldest son, he’d left home by the time he was 17, and was living in Detroit when he registered for the World War Two draft. He left both his emergency contact and employment information blank. 

 

Back home, his parents moved the rest of the family back to New York and his father got a job with the WPA. At 6:30 in the morning in late July 1939, three shots rang out in the family’s apartment in the Bronx. Two bullets hit Mrs. Abbruzzese, killing her instantly. Another bullet was lodged in the wall of the apartment. Edward Abbruzzese fled, taking the murder weapon with him. He was found three days later wandering along the Erie Railroad tracks in Paterson, New Jersey. His children said he’d been acting paranoid for several days leading up to the murder, believing that someone was out to get him. 



Lara:

 

By the time he got married in Indiana in 1952, Louis Abbruzzese had reinvented himself and become Dominick Edward Bartone. It does not appear that the Feds ever dug up this information on Bartone. In fact Hoover seemed pretty uninterested in Bartone’s life prior to him showing up in Miami in 1959.

 

Bartone first visited Havana on February 19, 1959 to promote the sale of the airplanes. With him were Babe Triscaro and Ben Dranow, both Hoffa associates. They stayed two days and returned to Miami on February 21. 



Nina:

 

Multiple flights were made to Havana by Bartone, Triscaro, and Naiman over the next six weeks as the negotiations dragged on. Most of the flights were piloted by Chauncey Holt, a close associate of Meyer Lansky. Naiman flew to Miami on March 18 to meet with Triscaro. Holt flew the two men to Havana the following day where Bartone and Ben Dranow were waiting for them. Two days later, the C-74 arrived in Havana, where the plane and its crew were greeted by a large crowd which included Naiman, Triscaro, Bartone, Dranow, and William Alexander Morgan. 

 

A mercenary and reputed CIA agent, Morgan had fought with Castro and had been given the rank of Major in the new Cuban armed forces. He was also head of the Cuban Provincial Police. Morgan was supposedly representing Castro in the negotiations for the C-74s. But prior to fleeing to Cuba, Morgan had been Dominick Bartone’s driver in Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio. He had been convicted of robbery in Ohio in 1948 and sentenced to five years. He escaped the following year, committed another robbery, and received five more years. His father later told the FBI that he believed that Morgan had been smuggling arms to Cuba since 1955.



Lara:

 

Again on March 30, Triscaro and his small team first met in Miami and then flew back to Cuba to discuss the aircraft sales. Two days later, the Castro government announced that it would buy anywhere from four to ten of the Globemasters, each of which could have carried over $1 million worth of armaments. Keep in mind that at this point in the story, Akros had only one plane in its possession. 

 

Babe Triscaro returned home feeling good about a job well done. But the deal with the Castro Regime collapsed not long after that. Now stuck with an airplane, but still no buyer, Bartone decided to try selling it to the Batista forces who were trying to regroup in the Dominican Republic. He obtained a permit for a demonstration flight to Puerto Rico to show the airplane to potential buyers. He stated that there would be $65,000 in spare parts on board. He’d file a flight plan showing a route to Puerto RIco, but as soon as the plane had leveled off outside of Miami airspace, he’d fake engine trouble and divert the plane to Santo Domingo. Once there, he’d sell the plane for $400,000 to the Batista forces. 





Nina:

 

At about 10am on May 22, 1959, as the plane was being loaded in Miami with 200,000 rounds of .45-caliber ammo, and machine guns, Bartone and his accomplices were arrested. Bartone was indicted on June 4 and held on $5,000 bond, and charged with conspiracy to export munitions illegally, and to bribe federal officials with $100,000. For this money, customs agents were to permit the C-74, packed with more than $1.25 million worth of contraband guns and ammo, to take off from Florida.

 

That didn’t bother Babe Triscaro, though. On May 28, a week after the arrest, Triscaro and Bartone were back together, sharing a hotel room in Miami. Throughout the summer of 1959, Bartone used Alvin Naiman’s telephone credit card to make calls to William Alexander Morgan in Cuba.

 

For his part, Alvin Naiman claimed that he had first met Bartone in about January 1959 when Bartone showed up at his office. Bartone told Naiman that he understood that Naiman owned some surplus Globemaster planes and that he, Bartone, had a buyer lined up. Naiman also claimed that Bartone was broke, and had asked him for a loan of $2,000 until the deal could be consummated.



Lara:

 

Bartone’s arrest aroused the interest of the Senate Rackets Committee and its chief counsel, Robert F. Kennedy, who had been investigating links between Hoffa’s Teamsters and organized crime. The Committee initiated hearings that dragged out through the summer of 1959. The stars of those hearings were the Kennedy brothers, Bobby and Jack. 

 

The hearing showed that low-level union leaders in Cleveland were involved from the start in the arms sales scheme with Akros. It was never determined definitively if the Teamsters had always had an interest in Akros or if they came in later when Akros encountered financial difficulties related to a loan that they’d taken from the Pan-American Bank of Miami to purchase the aircraft

 

Babe Triscaro refused to testify, pleading the fifth. Dominick Bartone wasn’t called to testify because he was waiting to go to trial for his part in the plot. 



Nina:

 

On December 30, 1959, Bartone was fined $10,000 and placed on three years probation. He had previously pled guilty to bribery-conspiracy to violate the Neutrality Act. That fine was later reduced to $7500.

 

The judge revoked his probation in September 1962 for participating in another arms smuggling plot. This time to export $109,000 in arms to the government of Honduras. The accomplice was a conman named Edward Browder.

 

Bartone took the stand in his own defense and testified that he had offered Browder the use of his bank account in a Panamanian bank to handle the financial part of the transaction. In return, Bartone would get a cut of 10%. But, he claimed, that he thought the deal involved electronic parts, not weapons.

 

He was then sentenced to one year imprisonment, but released pending appeal. The case ended up in the US Supreme Court based on a dispute over sentencing. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Court in Miami for resentencing in October 1963. Bartone appealed the sentencing in December 1963, and he was again released pending appeal. Which left him free to run a similar scam. Which was also apparently dead on arrival.

 

The Akros scheme was the first of many failed plots to overthrow Castro and his regime. But initially, the US government was at pains to smooth things over with the new Cuban leadership. 



Lara: 

 

The former US Ambassador to Cuba, Earl E.T. Smith testified in front of the U.S. Senate in 1960:

 

 "Until Castro, the U.S. was so overwhelmingly influential in Cuba that the American ambassador was the second most important man, sometimes even more important than the Cuban president. Most of the aid from the U.S. to Cuba had been in the form of weapons assistance, and completely failed to advance the economic welfare of the Cuban people.  Such actions enabled Castro and the Communists to encourage the growing belief that America was indifferent to Cuban aspirations for a decent life.”



Nina:

 

On October 6, 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy, during his campaign for the U.S. presidency said: 

“Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans in seven years ... and he turned Democratic Cuba into a complete police state—destroying every individual liberty. Yet our aid to his regime, and the ineptness of our policies, enabled Batista to invoke the name of the United States in support of his reign of terror. Administration spokesmen publicly praised Batista—hailed him as a staunch ally and a good friend—at a time when Batista was murdering thousands, destroying the last vestiges of freedom, and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Cuban people, and we failed to press for free elections.”

 

Lara:  

It wasn’t long after JFK’s election that his opinion about Cuba drastically changed. On January 3, 1961, diplomatic relations with Cuba were terminated by the US, and Cuba’s relationship with the USSR grew stronger. It was downhill from there. By April 1961 the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion took place. Cubans tried to escape, many settling in Miami. The mob’s hotels and casinos were nationalized as were all businesses. But the mob’s role in Cuba wasn’t over. When the CIA began planning to overthrow or assassinate Castro, they turned to the mob. The most notable being Sam Giancana along with Johnny Rosselli of both Chicago and LA, Santo Trafficante of Tampa and according to dad and Jack Kelley’s statement to Federal Marshal, John Partington, also Jack Kelley. According to the story I know, when Jack was approached and asked by the government, “how do you kill Castro?” His response was, “you don’t!” Jack felt it was it was suicide to operate outside of your area. He never even pulled a heist outside of his stomping grounds, let alone did a hit. The story that Vinnie Teresa told about the CIA approaching Raymond Patriarca isn’t plausible. I’ve been on this tirade before, but I’m going to rant once more. The timeline doesn’t fit. Pro committed two petty crimes in 1961, hooked up with Jack in late ‘62, may have committed a couple of small bank robberies in ‘63, but did no major heists until ’65 and his first hit was also in ‘65.



Nina:

 

Exactly! Pro wouldn’t have even been on Raymond’s radar yet. And as far as the CIA going to Raymond, the man couldn’t take out a local guy running an unsanctioned dice game in his own neighborhood! Who did he have for a hitter? Jackie Nazarian? And that story that NY went to Raymond to use Nazarian to take out Albert Anastasia! When Raymond did need somebody, he had to contact Butchie Micelli, who was living in Jersey. And Butchie complained to his FBI handler that he didn’t want to do it! 

 

Keep in mind that the plot to use the mob to take out Castro was hatched in 1960. The first mobster who was approached was Johnny “Handsome John” Rosselli. Good old Robert Maheu acted as the go between for the CIA and the Mafia. Rosselli then approached Sam Giancana and both of them approached Santo Trafficante. Trafficante was later suspected by Ginacana and Rosselli of being a double agent of Castro’s.



Lara:

 

Should we give a very brief background on Sam, Johnny and Santo?





Nina:

 

Yes, and we’ll go a little deeper into Maheu’s background as our listeners might be less familiar with him. I’ll start with Johnny since he was supposedly the first to be approached. I want to mention that the FBI believed Johnny's real identity to be Filipo Sacco. Sources say he was born Filippo Sacco on July 4, 1905, in Esperia, Lazio, Italy, and  that his father was Vincenzo Saccocame.

 

SA John Kehoe, who you all should be very familiar with by now, was tasked with tracking down Roselli’s alleged biological family. He dug up old school records on all of the children in the Sacco family, interviewed possible classmates, tracked down marriage licences, death certificates, and so on. At one point, it sounded like he was ready to exhume the body of Vincent Sacco, Roselli’s supposed father, who had died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. I almost wish he had because not only would it have been hilarious, but it likely would have put the story to rest. Of course, the gangster genealogist over here had to nose around herself. Here’s what I found, and it’s nowhere near complete. 

 

Vincent Sacco arrived in Boston in July 1905 with his brother Louis. The two said that they were going to their father, Filippo and their sister Beatrice and her husband. This all checks out. Beatrice and Filippo had arrived about a year prior and stated that they were going to Beatrice’s husband. It’s unclear if they were already married back in Italy at that point or not. But they did marry in Boston very shortly afterward. By the 1910 census, the other siblings had joined the family in Boston and they were all living together. Vincent says he’s married, but his wife isn’t with him. Filippo Sr was not with them, either, which indicates to me that he was deceased. But I haven’t found a death certificate so I can’t prove that. Kehoe thought Filippo Sr died in 1917, but the math doesn’t check out. He’s got Filippo’s birth year calculated at 1857, and the birth year should have been closer to 1852. 

 

Then in September 1911, Maria Antonia Pasquale arrived in New York with a 6 year old boy named Filippo. The document clearly states that Filippo’s father is also Filippo and that he’s still in Campania. Maria says that the two of them are going to Boston to Vincenzo Sacco. The address is incomplete, and someone went in later and wrote the address that’s in the 1910 census. I’m not saying it’s untrue exactly. My own suspicion is that it’s more likely that the situation was like the Angelo Bruno story. Vincenzo Sacco probably wasn’t the boy’s father, considering that Vincenzo’s arrival in the US is one day before Filippo Sacco is allegedly born. Kehoe also had a possible birthdate of 1907 on the kid which would definitely mean that he wasn’t Vincenzo’s. But I really do wish that Kehoe had exhumed that grave.

 

The Feds had a huge file on Roselli, so I definitely want to come back to this story when we do Spies and Wise Guys.



Lara:

 

Sam Giancana was born July 16, 1908 in Chicago, Il to Antonio “Glangana” Giancana and Antonia DiSimise. Antonio was from Partanna, Trapani, Sicily, and Antonia was from Marsala, Trapani, Sicily. Sam was the second oldest of 8 kids. His WWII draft card said he was 5’ 9 ½” tall, 166 lbs with black hair and brown eyes. 

 

He was a member of the 42 Gang in Chicago and earned a reputation as a getaway driver, an earner and a killer. His first conviction was in 1939 for bootlegging.  By 1950 he was on the radar of the Chicago Crime Commission. His recent rise to power had caught their eye. 



Nina:

 

Santo Trafficante Jr. was born in Tampa, FL. November 15, 1914 to Santo Trafficante and Maria Giuseppa Cacciatore. His parents were from Agrigento, Sicily. He was arrested numerous times during the 1950s on bribery charges and of running illegal lotteries in Tampa. He only had one  conviction in 1954, but never served any time as his conviction was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court before he reported to prison. 



Lara:

 

Robert Aime Maheu was born on October 30, 1917 in Waterville, ME to J. Ephraim Maheu and Christine Casavant. Aimee was her father’s given name. French Canadian on both sides. 



Nina:

 

Which means I’m related to him! French-Canadian inbreeding, for the win! He was also related to Jack Keroauc. 



Lara:

 

Lucky fucking you!

 

He graduated from Holy Cross then enrolled in law school at Georgetown. In 1941 he was recruited by the FBI as a counterintelligence officer in Europe during World War II. In 1947 he left the Feds and began Robert A. Maheu & Associates, a private detective firm in Washington, DC. He began working for Howard Hughes in 1955, but never actually met him face to face. But his most steady client was the CIA.





Nina:

 

On September 14, 1960, Maheu approached Rosselli, leaving out the part that he was contracted by the CIA, and offered him $150,000 to assassinate Castro. Roselli introduced Maheu  to Sam “Gold.” Then Sam introduced Maheu to "Joe." Sam Gold being Sam Giancana and Joe being Santo Trafficante Jr. The plan to get rid of Castro was initiated under President Dwight D. Eisenhower and continued by President Kennedy when he took office in 1961. This plot had the blessing of Allen Dulles.



Lara:

 

Giancana then brought Richard Cain into the mix. Cain was born October 4, 1931 to John Cain and Lydia Scully. Lydia was the daughter of Olimpio Scalzitti and Vincenza Grossi. By the 1930 census they had changed their surname to Scully. Olimpio was from Abruzzo and Vincenza was from Ceriale. Richard often used his mother’s maiden name and went by Richard Scalzitti. He was a member of the Chicago PD during the 1950s, but also on Giancana’s payroll. In 1960, he was assigned as a special investigator for Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Ogilvie. The investigation focused on Chicago mobster Tony Accardo. By the end of the year he was in Mexico training men for the Bay of Pigs Invasion which took place in April of 1961.



Nina:

 

Your favorite and Richie’s favorite spy, E. Howard Hunt was one of the three that oversaw that failed operation. Most of our listeners know E. Howard Hunt from Watergate. I have to bring up Tom Priestes. Tom was the ballplayer who went on a mini crime spree with Pro Lerner in 1961. You’ll recall their failed attempt at robbing a furniture store of $2400. Pro managed to get caught in 7 minutes, but Tom dodged the cops and took off back to Tampa to play ball for the remainder of the season. But in December he was back in Boston with Pro. This time they’d cooked up a new scheme: robbing a man named Neal Goldstein. But someone tipped off the cops and the two men were arrested and charged with conspiracy and carrying a gun in a motor vehicle. 

 

Tom had been a boxer prior to joining the Army, where he learned to play ball. But his crime spree with Pro seems to have put an end to his baseball career. The two men pleaded innocent and were held on $2500 bail. Their case was sent to the Norfolk County Grand Jury on December 15, 1961.




Lara:

 

Tom received a felony conviction, which would return to haunt him about a decade later. He returned to Pennsylvania and joined his younger brother, Jack, in business. Jack had also played baseball while he was in the Army in Korea. He’d been signed on with the Phillies in November 1957, and sent to their Tampa club to join Tom, who had been signed on a few months earlier. Jack had once hit three homers in one game, and the Phillies wanted him for his skill with the bat. 

 

By 1965, the Priestes brothers were back in Florida. They were principally engaged in the hearing aid business. They’d obtained a mobile van marked “Unit Number 2”. But it was actually their only van. They’d go around offering free hearing tests and then use strong-arm sales tactics to get people to buy their questionable product. They’d operated a similar scheme in the Ohio Pennsylvania area until hundreds of complaints were lodged with the Better Business Bureau and they were forced to leave.



Nina:

 

The State of Florida was unable to get them shut down until they stumbled across Tom’s felony conviction that he’d failed to disclose. But by then the Priestes brothers had moved on to bigger and better things. Scamming the Fair Housing Administration.

 

Jack Priestes claimed that he’d gotten the capital to start his home building business by selling the hearing aid business to an operation in Illinois. The Feds later seized boxes of the devices in Florida in 1971, saying that they didn’t work.

 

Priestes had become one of the most prolific home builders in Dade County history. In January 1972, the Priestes companies received 300 new allocations to build, twice as many as any other builder in the same period. The net profit for each allocation was estimated to be between $2 and $3 grand. But now the Miami Herald was on his case, and breathing down his neck. 



Lara:

 

He later testified to the Watergate Committee that he was offered cabinet level influence to resolve his mounting problems with the FHA if he contributed $50,000 to the Committee to Re-Elect the President. The “cabinet level influence” was HUD Secretary George Romney. According to the agreement, Priestes would pay half up front to get an audience with Maurice Stans in DC. Stans would then use his influence to vacate the FHA order. Jack Priestes delivered a check of $25,000 to DC, the same day the FHA announced the suspension at a news conference. But Jack didn’t have $25,000 and had to go to a friend to get a loan. The friend knew why he needed the money but insisted on writing a check out to the RNC. As a result, the check was returned three weeks later. Priestes alleged that Ben Fernandez of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly asked him to get them the money in another way, by disguising the payments in smaller amounts and from different people. 



Nina:

 

Priestes then testified that Fernandez sent someone to get the cash, but that he refused to give the person money since he didn’t know him from Adam. He called Fernandez in California wanting to know what was going on. But Fernandez brushed him off, telling him that he could still give them money but that they couldn’t do anything for him. 

 

But a few months later, the Herald revealed that the so-called “suspension” was only for four Priestes companies. Another seven were still allowed to contract with the FHA. Not only that, of the 300 allocations from January, only 50 had been frozen. 

 

I know Priestes claimed he didn’t get any benefit off of those payments to the Committee to Re-Elect the President since they never went through, but somebody almost certainly got kickbacks somewhere along the way. He continued developing residential properties in Florida into the 80s. 



Lara:

 

Let’s get back on track.

 

The first plan was Giancana’s idea. He suggested a man named Juan Orta poison Catsro’s food. After several unsuccessful attempts, Juan jumped ship and the idea was abandoned. But they didn’t give up on the idea of poisoning him with botulism. Instead of food it would be poison laced cigars. The plots seemed pretty far-fetched. Others included a tuberculosis laden diving suit, an exploding cigar, a pen fit with a hypodermic needle laced with poisonous nicotine and a bomb at Hemingway’s museum.  And of course a good, old gangland slaying was an option that was tossed around.



Nina:

 

One of his lovers was also recruited to poison him, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. Along with the other hairbrained schemes were Thallium salts to destroy his beard and slipping him LSD before he went on TV to ruin his reputation.

 

Obviously none of these plans came to fruition, but on November 22, 1963 President Kennedey was assassinated. Rumors persisted for years that Castro may have been behind it or the Mafia. 






Lara:

 

Well you know my opinion. I firmly believe that LBJ was at least complicit in the assassination of JFK. I also don’t believe that there was only one shooter, and I definitely don’t buy that the Mafia had anything to do with it. But they were the perfect scapegoat and are happy to continue to this day to perpetuate that myth. 



Nina:

 

There’s always more than one shooter in these stories until suddenly it’s “just a lone wolf”. I think of JFK’s assassination as more of an internal coup. As for LBJ, he may not have been in on the plot exactly, but he certainly must have known more than he ever let on. And what better way to blackmail a sitting president? With the knowledge that you could take him out next? 

 

I’ve also always found it interesting that intelligence agencies have tried so hard to avoid pointing the finger at the Soviets. Although former CIA Director James Woolsey’s new book claims that it was a Soviet plot originally, and that they sent Oswald back to the States to carry out the mission. The Soviets then chickened out and had called off the plan by April 1963. But by then Oswald was already committed and went for it anyway. Which I don’t buy at all, but then what would you expect a CIA guy to say? Oh yeah, that was us?



Lara:

 

Now let’s talk about the mob conspiracy theory. We’ll start with Jack Ruby since he was connected to Santo Trafficante and Sam Giancana. Trafficante and Ruby met in Cuba in 1959 and it was believed that Ruby was a bagman for Trafficante. Jack was born Jacob Rubenstein on April 25, 1911 in Chicago to Joseph Rubenstein and Fannie Turek Rutkowski who were Polish immigrants. He joined the teamsters in his late teens, was drafted in 1943 and upon being discharged he returned to Chicago. By 1947, he moved to Dallas, began working in nightclubs and stripclubs and along the way changed his name to Ruby. He even worked as a bouncer at his own clubs and was known for having a violent streak.



Nina:

 

On March 11, 1959, SA Charles W. Flynn, of the Dallas FBI Office, approached Ruby about  becoming an informant due to his job as a night club operator, since he "might have knowledge of the criminal element in Dallas.” Ruby was willing to become an informant, but was dropped in October that year as he didn’t provide any information.

 

At the Commission and the House Select Committee on Assassinations evidince was presented  that Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante, Jr. and Jimmy Hoffa, ordered the assassination of the President. Part of that evidence was a 25-fold increase in the number of out-of-state telephone calls from Jack Ruby to associates of Marcello, Trafficante and Hoffa in the months before the assassination The committee heard that Ruby had known Sam Giancana and Joseph Campisi, another Chicago Mafia member, since 1947, and had been seen in their company many times over the years. The evening before Kennedy was assassinated, Ruby and Campisi had dinner together at Campisi's restaurant. After Ruby was arrested for killing Lee Oswald, Joe Campisi "regularly visited" Ruby in prison.



Lara:

 

The theory was that Ruby took out Oswald to prevent him from talking as the mob had hired him to assassinate the President. Oswald’s uncle had loose connections to Marcello in Louisiana.

The night before Ruby killed Oswald the FBI received a threat against Oswald’s life. After Oswald was killed, Hoover issued a statement: 

“Last night we received a call in our Dallas office from a man talking in a calm voice and saying he was a member of a committee organized to kill Oswald. We at once notified the chief of police and he assured us Oswald would be given sufficient protection. This morning we called the chief of police again warning of the possibility of some effort against Oswald and again he assured us adequate protection would be given. However, this was not done… Oswald having been killed today after our warnings to the Dallas Police Department was inexcusable.”

 

Nina:

Now back to your LBJ theory. In 1982 Richard Nixon admitted hiring Ruby as an informant for the House Un-American Activities Committee back in 1947. An unnamed official who believed Lyndon Johnson was the planner of the assassination, claimed Nixon said he hired Ruby at the behest of LBJ, one of “Johnson’s boys.” A congressional staffer in 1947 sought to prevent Jack Rubenstein from testifying in front of the committee in public. 

“It is my sworn statement that one Jack Rubenstein of Chicago noted as a potential witness for hearings of the House Committee on Un-American Activities is performing information functions for the staff of Congressman Richard M. Nixon, Rep. Of California. It is requested Rubenstein not be called for open testimony in those aforementioned hearings.”

 

Lara:

Despite all of the theories, investigations and hearings we still don’t know the truth about the assassination of President Kennedy. Last month, more of the documents, mostly CIA ones, pertaining to the investigation were released, but there are still 1000s that have yet to be made public. I’m highly doubtful that there are any answers hidden away in them. 

 

Nina:

I agree with you. 

Santo Trafficante lived out his days in relative peace. He passed away at a Houston Hospital of a heart attack on March 17, 1987. Jack Ruby died in prison of an embolism and cancer on January 3, 1967. Sam Giancana was shot 7 times in his home on June 19, 1975. His murder was never solved. Johnny Rosselli’s body was found in an oil drum floating in Dumfoundling Bay near Miami. The cause of death was ruled asphyxiation. Like Giancana, his murder was never solved. The common theory was that it was mob related but considering what they were tangled up in, I have my doubts about that.

 

Lara:

I agree.

Next week we are going back to New England. The following two episodes will  focus on the Hill, Federal Hill that is in Providence, RI. The first part we’ll be profiling some of the characters and their crimes. In part 2 the feuds will be the topic of discussion. We hope you continue to listen. 

 

Nina:

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Lara and Nina:

BYE!!