James T. "Blackie" Licavoli [Jack White] (August 18, 1904-November 27, 1985) was a Cleveland, Ohio mobster and one of the earliest organized crime figures to be convicted under the RICO Act.
1 Early life
2 Rise to power & the Cleveland Mob Wars
James Licavoli was born Vicentio Licavoli in Sicily, the third of four children of Dominic and Girolama Licavoli. They emigrated to the United States and eventually settled in St Louis along with other members of their family. In St Louis, James Licavoli along with his cousins, Peter and Thomas also known as "Yonnie" were bootleggers.
In 1928, Licavoli was shot in the leg and arrested after a wild chase and shootout with St Louis Police. Though he had fired on the police, Licavoli was charged merely with carrying a concealed weapon and even that charge was dropped. Later, Licavoli went with his cousins to Detroit where they had wrested control of the city's rackets from the Purple Gang. There he was convicted of bootlegging and served a stint at Leavenworth. Upon his release, he joined his cousins in Toledo, where they had moved to avoid heat from the murder of a crusading Anti-mafia radio broadcaster,Jerry Buckley.
The Licavolis and their cousin, Leo "Lips" Moceri, didnt remain in Ohio for long. Five members of the gang including Yonnie were arrested for the murder of a Toledo drug baron. Peter Licavoli returned to Detroit and regrouped - his force retaining the original Purple Gng title. James Licavoli went on the lam and hid in Pittsburgh where he stayed with up-and-coming mob boss, John Sebastian LaRocca.
One of many in the Licavoli family to become involved in organized crime, James Licavoli first arrived in Cleveland in 1938. There he soon became good friends with Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno and Tony "Dope" Delsanter. Among their exploits at the time, they teamed up to rob northeast Ohio gambling halls. In 1940, Licavoli was made into the Cleveland family and quickly established control over illegal gambling and the vending machine industry in the neighboring cities of Youngstown and Warren, Ohio. During this period, Licavoli was a suspect in the murders of Jim "Mancene" Mancini and gambling slot czar Nate Weisenberg.
In 1951, Licavoli was called before the US Senate committee on organized crime, known as the Kefauver Committee. Licavoli refused to answer any questions.
Rise to power & the Cleveland Mob Wars
By 1970, James Licavoli had become known as "the king of the hill" - Murray Hill, Little Italy. He never married and remained a lifelong bachelor. He lived with a 70 year old roommate who was also a bachelor and worked as a carpenter.
Licavoli had been called "Blackie" while he was growing up in Collinwood. Now he was known in the Mob as "Jack White," a more ironic reference to his swarthy complexion.
Despite, his immense wealth, he had a reputation for being cheap and occasionally foolish to the point of embarrassment. Once at a local mall, he was detained by store detectives for switching the price tags on a pair of pants. After hearing about his background, the department store manager declined to prosecute. Another time he was caught using slugs on machines. He also used stolen credit cards on vacations.
In 1976, longtime mobster John Scalish died, leaving control of Cleveland’s lucrative criminal operations, specifically the cities' Teamsters Union locals, up for grabs. Although Licavoli was thought to be Scalish's successor, other mobsters such as John Nardi challenged him for leadership of the organization. With the assistance of Irish mobster Danny Greene, many of Licavoli's supporters were killed within several weeks. That included one of Licavoli's most powerful allies, Leo Moceri, whose bloodstained car was found in a hotel parking lot in Akron, Ohio.
These murders soon gained the attention of other criminal organizations, particularly the Genovese crime family of New York. Licavoli declined Genovese leader Frank "Funzi" Tieri's offers for help; he feared that the Genovese family would try to muscle in on Cleveland’s criminal operations. Licavoli also had to fend off interference from the Chicago Outfit. Outfit leader Joey Aiuppa finally declared their neutrality in the Cleveland gang war and ordered his people not to assist Licavoli.
During the early phases of the gang war, Licavoli was on the defense. However, in 1977, he was able to prevail, killing his rivals Nardi and Green in separate car bombings. Licavoli would go on trial for their murders, but was eventually acquitted.
With the deaths of Nardi and Green, Licavoli assumed complete control of criminal activities in Cleveland. Under Licavoli, the Cleveland syndicate successfully infiltrated the FBI's Cleveland branch. They accomplished this by bribing a female clerk to update them on organized crime investigations and provide the identities of government informants. In a later conversation with lifelong friend and FBI informant Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno (described in Fratianno's autobiography The Last Mafioso), Licavoli ironically commented "Jimmy, sometimes, you know, I think this fucking outfit of ours is like the old Communist party in this country. It's getting so that there's more fucking spies in it than members."
Fratianno soon became alarmed that Licavoli would discover he was an informant, so he quickly entered the Witness Protection Program. With Fratianno's help, the FBI closed the leak in their Cleveland Office. Prosecuters now targeted Licavoli for prosecution under the newly created Racketeering and Corrupt Organization, or RICO, Act. In 1982, Licavoli was tried and convicted of federal RICO charges and sentenced to seventeen years imprisonment.
In 1985, James Licavoli died of heart attack at the Oxford Federal Correctional Institute in Oxford, Wisconsin.