The Cleveland crime family family is a crime syndicate that is part of the phenomenon known as the Mafia or Cosa Nostra. It has been active in the Cleveland Area and throughout the country since the beginning of the twentieth century.
The arrival of the Porrellos, Fazios and the Lonardos Cleveland crime family originated with the Porrello and Lonardo crime families. The Porrello and Lonardo families migrated to the United States from Licata, Sicily in the late 1800s and the Porrello and Lonardo brothers first established themselves as legitimate businessmen. The two groups dabbled in various criminal activities, such as robbery and extortion, before prohibition, but were not yet considered major organizations.
At the start of Prohibition, Joseph Lonardo, known as "Big Joe" was the first Boss of the Cleveland crime family, the official head of the Cleveland mafia. He was the second oldest of four Lonardo brothers who's family began supplying Cleveland's bootleggers with the corn sugar they needed to produce liquor, in fact he and his brothers had gained majority control over the racket in the state of Ohio by the early 1920s. Another mafia family which had settled in Cleveland, the Porello family, were also involved in the corn sugar business and worked for the Lonardos during the earliest years of Prohibition, but soon became influential members of the Cleveland crime mafia. In 1926, the Porello family broke off from the Lonardo group and formed their own faction within the Cleveland mafia, a competing crime group that began to rival that of the Lonardo family in the corn sugar business and for mafia influence within Ohio as the Porello like the Lonardos had various allies and their own group of supporters within the Cleveland mafia and in New York, the American mafia's recognized powerbase. In 1927 hostilities between the Lonardo and Porello families were escalating as the Porello family began to oppose the Lonardo family for leadership within the Cleveland mafia. On the afternoon of October 13, 1927 a peace meeting was scheduled between the Lonardo and Porello family leaders. Joe Lonardo and his eldest brother John were the first of the two groups to arrive at the meeting site, a Porello owned barber shop. Joe and John Lonardo, along with a couple of known associates relaxed and played a game of cards while waiting patiently for the Porello representatives to arrive. Within minutes of arriving and letting their guard down the Lonardos were surprised by two gunmen and assassinated. Many suspected that the Porellos were responsible for the murders as they immediately took over the Cleveland crime family leadership, but no one was ever convicted for the crime.
After the deaths of two of the Lonardo brothers, the Porrellos became the most influential corn sugar barons in the Cleveland area, but their time as Cleveland's top mob family was brief. Over the next three years a continuing feud with the remaining Lonardo family members and their supporters had its effects throughout the Cleveland mafia. From the beginning the Porello family and its head, Joe Porello, also known as "Big Joe" took power in Cleveland they experienced rivalry and opposition from a fast rising mafia faction within the Cleveland mafia which were once Lonardo supporters. With increased police scrutiny and a decline in business, the Porellos continued to lose power and influence throughout the late 1920s and into the 1930s. At the end of Prohibition, most of the Porello brothers and their supporters had been killed or had sided with the Mayfield Road Mob. Thus, the power in Cleveland organized crime began to shift.
The Mayfield Road Mob was a Mafia gang based in Cleveland's Little Italy. This Mafia faction was even mentioned by its old name in the movie "The Godfather" as the Lakeview Road Gang, as Lakeview Cemetery borders Mayfield Road Hill which marks the beginning of Little Italy in Cleveland. This area is also referred to as "Murray Hill" by locals. This Mafia family was formed in the late 1920s and was headed by Frank Milano. In the early 1930s, Milano and his gang replaced the Porrellos as the Cleveland area's premier Mafia group. In 1931, Milano joined the National Crime Syndicate with many powerful criminals around the country, such as Charlie Luciano and Meyer Lansky. Milano was now the official boss of Cleveland's Cosa Nostra family. In 1935, however, Milano fled to Mexico after being indicted for tax evasion. Alfred Polizzi, another leading member of the Mayfield Road mob, seized power and reigned as boss until 1944, when he was convicted of tax evasion. The following boss was John Scalish (Scalise).
The Collinwood Mob, based in Cleveland's South Collinwood Neighborhood was at times integrated with the Mayfield Road Mob and has a Mafia history as old as that of the Mayfield Road Gang. The most notorious of the Collinwood Crew was the late Alfred "Allie Con" Calabrese. Allie Con was feared and respected in both neighborhoods and known as a stand up guy, a gangsters - gangster. His crew consisted of Joe "Loose" Icobacci, the late Butchie Cisternino and others from the streets that stretched from the 152nd street bridge, up Five Points and Ivanhoe Road, down Mandalay across London Road to Wayside and over to Saranac bordering the Collinwood Train Yards.
John Scalish was, by far, the longest reigning Cleveland mob boss. He took control of the family in 1944, and would remain the boss for thirty-two years, until his death in 1976. During his time as the crime family's leader, the group developed ties with important crime figures like Moe Dalitz, Meyer Lansky, and Tony Accardo. They became allies of the extremely powerful Chicago Outfit and Genovese crime family. The Cleveland mob also expanded its influence to areas throughout the Midwest, as well as California, Florida, and Las Vegas.
In the 1950s, the family would reach its peak in size, with about 60 "made" members, and several times as many associates. By the 1970s, however, the family's membership began to decrease, because Scalish didn't induct many new members. Scalish died during open heart surgery in 1976, and failed to name a successor beforehand.
After the Death of John Scalish, it was decided by the family's members that Jack "Jack White" Licavoli would take over as boss. Licavoli had worked for the infamous Purple Gang in Detroit during Prohibition, and then moved to Cleveland, where he gradually rose up the ranks of the city's underworld.
During his reign, an Irish gangster named Danny Greene began competing with the Mafia for control of union rackets. This resulted in a violent mob war between the Mafia and Danny Greene gang (Danny was backed by mob associate and teamster John Nardi), during which there were almost 40 car bombings in Cleveland. Nardi was killed on May 17, 1977 by a car bomb in the parking lot of the Teamster Hall in Cleveland. After eight failed attempts to kill Greene, they realised they needed outside help. When they learned Greene planned to visit his dentist, Licavoli and Lonardo contracted Ray Ferritto to assassinate him in 1977.
When Greene was inside the building, Ferritto and Ronald "The Crab" Carabbia planted a box bomb inside a bomb car, and while Greene was inside the dentist, they parked the car next to Green's. When Greene came out and went to open his door, Caribbia set off the bomb, killing Greene instantly. Ferritto later heard that the Cleveland crime family wanted him dead, so he flipped and made a deal with the authorities.
In the aftermath of the conflict, many Cleveland Mafiosi, including the boss, Licavoli, were convicted of a variety of crimes. After Licavoli was sent to prison for the murder of Danny Greene in 1982, Angelo Lonardo, the son of Prohibition mob boss John Lonardo, took control of the Cleveland crime family. He led the family until 1984, when he was convicted of running a drug ring and was sentenced to life in prison. He then became an informant, making him the highest ranking Mafia turncoat up to that time. He informed on powerful Mafiosi from numerous families while in prison, and caused serious damage to the Mafia's infrastructure.
After Lonardo became an informant, the Cleveland crime family was ravaged by the FBI and other law enforcers to the point where it was thought to have no living members outside of prison by the early 1990s. It was declared inactive by the FBI and was even labeled extinct by some law enforcers. However, Russel Papalardo is rumored to currently be running the day to day activities of the Cleveland crime family and rebuilding the organization. It is currently thought by many locals that the Cleveland Mafia has grown to over 30 made members consisting mostly of Murray Hill and Collinwood neighborhood alumni.