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The Italian Squad: Unmasking New York's Crimefighters

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เนื้อหาจัดทำโดย Steve and Organized Crime เนื้อหาพอดแคสต์ทั้งหมด รวมถึงตอน กราฟิก และคำอธิบายพอดแคสต์ได้รับการอัปโหลดและจัดเตรียมโดย Steve and Organized Crime หรือพันธมิตรแพลตฟอร์มพอดแคสต์โดยตรง หากคุณเชื่อว่ามีบุคคลอื่นใช้งานที่มีลิขสิทธิ์ของคุณโดยไม่ได้รับอนุญาต คุณสามารถปฏิบัติตามขั้นตอนที่อธิบายไว้ที่นี่ https://th.player.fm/legal

Title: The Italian Squad: Unmasking New York's Crimefighters

Original Publication Date: 10/4/2023

Transcript URL: https://share.descript.com/view/gYDhPsotOyw

Description: In this episode of "Organized Crime and Punishment," we are joined by author Paul Moses to dive deep into the pages of his latest work, "The Italian Squad." This gripping narrative explores the fascinating history of law enforcement's battle against organized crime, specifically focusing on the dedicated officers of the Italian Squad.

The Italian Squad, formed in the early 20th century, played a pivotal role in dismantling powerful criminal syndicates in New York City. Moses' book sheds light on their relentless pursuit of justice, often at great personal risk.

Key takeaways include the Squad's innovative investigative techniques, their impact on organized crime, and the enduring legacy of these courageous officers. We also discuss the broader implications of their work in the context of today's criminal justice system.

#OrganizedCrime #TheItalianSquad #LawEnforcement #TrueCrime #PodcastDiscussion

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Begin Transcript:

[00:00:00] Welcome to Organized Crime and Punishment, the best spot in town to hang out and talk about history and crime with your hosts, Steve and Mustache Chris.

Welcome back to Organized Crime and Punishment. Steve here, uh, with a special interview with a really fascinating topic, and it's a topic that, uh, Mustache Chris and I will definitely dive into more, but this was just the perfect opportunity to talk with Paul Moses, who is the author of The Italian Squad.

The true story of the immigrant cops who fought the rise [00:01:00] of the mafia. And this is a really fascinating story because it falls outside of what most people traditionally think of the mafia in the timeline of generally the later part of the 20th century. And this is going way back. So Paul, maybe you can tell us, um, what got you interested in this topic of the Italian squad?

Sure. Well, I had done a previous book called an unlikely union, the love hate story of New York's Irish and Italians. And in that book, I focused, uh, I had one chapter on what it was like for people within the Italian immigrants in the NYPD, uh, to try to advance in a department that was really, uh, very much controlled by the Irish, uh, either immigrants or later generations.

And they, they had a rough time of it, and the Italian community itself had, had pretty, um, rough relations with the, uh, NYPD in, in that, in that [00:02:00] era. Uh, there was a lot of ethnic friction. So, in doing that, I included a chapter that told the story of, uh, Joseph Petrosino, who was the founding detective of the, uh, NYPD's Italian squad in 1904.

And from the, mostly from the point of view of what it was like for him as an Italian immigrant to try to be the go between between the Italian community and the NYPD so. His story is really interesting. It's, it's been told quite a bit, but I saw that he's after Petrosino. He's, he's murdered while on a mission to Sicily in 1909.

Um, and generally stories about the Italian squad, uh, kind of stopped there, but the squad went on to 1922 and I saw that that. Part of the story really wasn't told that much. And it was just as fascinating as the better known story of Joseph Petruzzino's service. It's a fascinating story because Petruzzino goes, [00:03:00] maybe we can, before we even get into Petruzzino and the whole story of the Italian squad, they're fighting against Organized Italian organized crime, and it's referred to at that time as period as the Black Hand.

What was the Black Hand? Yeah, the Black Hand, uh, was seen by many people in that time as being, uh, a giant, uh, sinister underground organization probably controlled by criminals in Italy. It wasn't that at all. It wasn't a mafia kind of thing. It was really in the isolated or independent groups of thugs who realized that if you sent a letter to somebody with a black hand on it and use enough threats that it may force somebody to to pay off.

And so it actually really found its oxygen in the news coverage that made it seem like a, uh, international conspiracy. Uh, and [00:04:00] that's not to say that people using the black hand label or to be taken lightly. Uh, you know, they did many bombings, kidnappings and serious crimes that that needed to be tamped down.

One interesting thing about the whole story before we even get into New York is Joseph Petruzzino, which you said, uh, you know, his story is pretty well known, but he did it. He was killed in Italy and his, uh, the subsequent leader of the Italian squad. Worked in Italy, and one of the things that I found was really interesting is like, well, under what authority was the NYPD operating in a sovereign country?

And was that something that was common? Was the, did people think like, was there just no other mechanism for the FBI or what that didn't really exist at that point, but other agencies to do that? The NYPD just opens up office in a foreign country and is doing intelligence and all. And all sorts of other police [00:05:00] work.

Yeah. Part of the problem was that the federal government really, uh, should have been doing this kind of work. Uh, no, it, it was a, it was a, um, authorized trip in that the police department arranged it through our state department, which in turn. dealt with the Italian foreign ministry. So, um, you know, he was there, uh, Petrosino, but he was distrustful of the Italian authorities and he didn't want them to protect him.

So, uh, so, and he was. They're primarily to gather some records of people who are criminal records in Italy, which would enable him to come back to New York and get them deported under a certain federal law. But, um, so that relationship. You know, it just wasn't giving the records in the time that they needed them.

So he wanted to straighten that out. He was also doing some things that may have been a little under the radar. Maybe the State Department wasn't fully aware of, like, [00:06:00] trying to find his own sources, um, you know, making connections with people that that was that part of it was a little under the radar.

But he went over there, he met the, the, the chief of all Italian police in Rome, you know, when he arrived, so it was above board. What was the genesis of the Italian squad? Where did they come up with this idea to set up a special police unit of Italian, uh, American officers and detectives? It comes from really two places.

One is the Italian community itself. Which felt the police really didn't understand their community couldn't speak the language and maybe didn't even care that much if unless somebody else other than Italians was a crime victim. Secondly, the newspapers were really building building up the threat of of Italian immigrant crime.

And so between the newspapers and the Italian community itself, which, which really was, uh, wanted better policing, um, that kind of forced the hand of the, uh, police [00:07:00] commissioner to create a small, uh, squad headed by Petrosino in 1904. You, uh, discuss this a lot in the book, but what was the thought of the Italian American people at that time?

Because you, there was a high crime rate amongst Italians. Often by people inside of their own community, but, uh, an issue that we'll get into later, some of the times this Italian squad was using some pretty rough policing techniques, what did the people think about these issues? I didn't see any broad pushback, uh, maybe partly because all the police use pretty rough methods at that time.

Uh, you know, Joseph Petrosina was trained by, you know, the leading, you know, detective commander of his day. And some of that method was, uh, uh, you know, extra judicial, uh, let's say, um, and, uh, uh, Primarily, [00:08:00] the, the, really the reaction was that they, they wanted decent policing, but, uh, and they wanted it to be done by people who understood their community in some ways, a lot, like we see today, people want policing.

They, they just don't want it to feel like an invading force, you know, and I think that was the same thing. And the strength of the Italian squad detectors was that they knew the community, um, and people will come and talk to them who probably wouldn't have gone down and talk to somebody. I didn't feel connected to.

Um, eventually there is some pushback because, you know, leaders of the Italian community, political leaders start to say, why is there an Italian squad? Every ethnicity has gangs. Why? Why is there only one? And so eventually there was some pushback in politics against having a quote unquote Italian squad.

I didn't see it initially though. I think. Italian Americans were by and large proud of the successes of these detectives who were often written about in glowing terms in the newspapers. Um, [00:09:00] certainly, among criminals, there was a lot of anger and resentment, uh, though, that was building up and that may have actually contributed to the plot to murder Joseph Petrosino when he ventured off into Italy.

There was a, there was a real conflict between the... The prevailing, uh, administration of the police department and these sort of up and comers with the Italians, who was really the, running the police department in the late 1800s, early 1900s in cities like New York City? Well, I found in the early 1900s that a lot of times the mayors had a really strong hand in it, but their interest was often from a political angle.

Um, Then, you know, there were the inspectors who were very powerful figures, uh, and some of them corrupt. Uh, the, um, in the mid 1890s, of course, Teddy Roosevelt famously played a role as as the head of the what they then called the police board of [00:10:00] commissioners. And he was actually the one who promoted Joseph Petrosino to a detective.

Um, so, yeah, the leadership, uh, the commissioners came and went not unlike today, uh, because I think policing is a very politically sensitive issue for the mayor and I think many mayors in New York history have been undone by. How the public view the police department and what they wanted from it. Um, so mayors played a lot pretty close attention and whoever held these top posts like chief of detectives that that has to go through city hall.

And at that time, that meant off mentality hall to. And Tammany Hall and a lot of these organizations were run by the Irish. What sort of political machinations and operations did these predominantly Irish police departments and governmental organizations, well, how did they operate? Yeah, I mean, [00:11:00] there was always an issue about, about corruption.

There was a pretty strong reform movement to sort of Republican slash reform movement, uh, progressive that, and that, that, that movement was also somewhat anti immigrant, um, in my opinion, that there's that influence. And then Tammany is, is, you know, kind of absorbing the immigrants in a lot of ways. Um, Tammany has gambling interests.

There's no question about that. So, uh, your district leaders in Tammany, uh, you know, wanted a police commissioner who was not going to get in the way of those gambling interests. So, and then the mayors themselves are under pressure from the reform side, you know, to really clamp down on, on, uh. Police graft, so those forces kind of come at mayors from both directions, and they sort of have to find their way through that.

And sometimes they lean heavily towards the reform side. Sometimes they kind of give a bit so they can have good relations with certain leaders. And it does actually affect. [00:12:00] The work of the Italian squad and what it can do and not do the whole idea of civil rights. There was really, I mean, I guess throughout the whole history of the United States, and this is a theme that we discuss a lot in this current series of the podcast, but there's always been a push and a pull between.

Preserving civil, civil liberties and being tough on crime. And it seemed like this, that was really playing out in particular within this discussion of the Italian squad. What were some of the abuses of civil liberties and then some of the, the pushback against that to preserve civil liberties? I, the, there was really a very wanton use of the nightstick in those days, and I don't, I don't, in a way, pin that on the Italian squad detectives.

They were typically not out trying to get a bunch of people out of a bar or things like that. But, but they were very free with the nightsticks and to the point that, um, [00:13:00] eventually the people, the city elected a mayor who was, who was really an ardent civil libertarian, uh, Judge William Gaynor. Thank you.

Uh, he was elected in 1910, and, uh, he made, you know, uh, police violence a high priority. He would, he would, you know, investigate the cases himself. He would get complaints in the mail and call the officers in. Um, with the Italian squad, I think their great frustration was that they often knew more than they could prove in court because people would talk to them, but they were not willing to testify.

So, uh, that's where you might get a Joseph Petrosian or going to somebody and say, I'm threatening them or more. Uh, and and, uh, and so their, their use of, uh, violence centers be targeted, I think, to people, they, they thought were criminals, but, but, you know, couldn't have trouble prosecuting. Um, that that's what I noticed, uh, and looking at it closely, which is not to excuse it, but that that that's, that's, uh, kind of how it how it played out.

[00:14:00] Um, yeah. There was also a big issue with what we would now call gang databases. In those days, they would post photos of people who they arrested on the wall in the detective bureau, and detectives would look at those, and then when they're trying to, you know, find suspects for a crime, they would, you know, look for those people again.

And and they call it the rogues gallery, and that became a huge controversy and actually led mayor gainer to let go of the police commissioner, who was probably the Italian squad's greatest supporter. Uh, uh, general, uh, Theodore Bingham was his name, uh, sort of, uh. Teddy Roosevelt knockoff kind of, uh, not, not, not, not certainly not as brilliant as Teddy Roosevelt, but, but very brusque and, you know, I can do anything strong and he made a lot of enemies, especially in Tammany Hall.

And eventually, you know, the mayor removed him, but, um, over, over this whole issue of the Rose Gallery. Uh, so, yeah, um, civil liberties, I guess, issues are nothing new. People were concerned about [00:15:00] them back then also, um, as they are today. Steve here. We are a member of the Parthenon Podcast Network featuring great shows like Scott Rank's History Unplugged Podcast and other great podcasts.

Go to ParthenonPodcast. com to learn more. And here is a quick word from our sponsors. I found that dub. Mayor Gaynor was a really, probably one of the most surprising people of a book full of surprising people. I think you could have transported him to 2010, and he would be on the cutting edge of civil liberties.

Yeah, it's rare to see somebody who's so ardent a civil libertarian get to a position, you know, uh, at like mayor of a big city and, uh, yeah, he, he was, uh, uh, you know, old fashioned, uh, uh, you know, very tough, uh, uh, [00:16:00] tough guy. Brilliant, could have been president. Even people thought he was shot while he was in office by a disgruntled office seeker and kind of lingered in office with the bullet still in his throat.

He died before his term actually ended. Um, this is kind of a sad story, but he was, had been a Brooklyn judge who took on the machines in Brooklyn, you know, and fought his way up and he was a maverick, true maverick. And, and, and I think in that era, that, you know, progressive era, you know, people like that.

Uh, Tammany eventually backed him just because they wanted to back a winner, but he, he had no use for Tammany, even though he went with their support. Maybe we could talk a little bit more about Tammany because Tammany is always looming in the background. What is their power? Because they're starting to, they really start to fade out.

Is there, is this peak Tammany at this point, even in the early 1900s? Well, they had a boss named Charlie Murphy, who was pretty brilliant [00:17:00] and not, not a boss tweet type who, who was a hundred percent thoroughly corrupt. Uh, um, and, uh, you know what, they were the ones reaching out to immigrants. Uh, they had, uh, uh, the boss on the Lower East Side, big Tim Sullivan was, was he, yeah, he was totally in bed with the gambling.

Probably prostitution interests, but he was also the 1 who was, you know, providing services and going to the legislature to try to get laws that would, you know, help help working people, you know, in the factories. Uh, also famously passed the, um, major gun control law of New York state, uh, the Solomon law, which only recently got struck down by the Supreme Court.

Um, so I kind of. I guess, as a kind of former newspaper reporter myself, I always kind of view them as totally corrupt. There's been a book by a historian and journalist, um, uh, uh, Terry, Terry Galway that that takes a somewhat [00:18:00] revisionist view and actually, in some ways, Tammany was really the ramp for some of the reforms of the, um, that, that theater, uh, Franklin Roosevelt made later, you know, through Al Smith, that concern about working people was also there.

So it's. It's not a big, massive evil, but they weren't, yeah, they did, there was a lot of mischief. Um, uh, uh, and, uh, I wouldn't say they were solidly behind the working person, an immigrant too, because they had other interests that would undercut that sometimes, but it's, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's more nuanced, I think, than I thought before I started researching the book.

Yeah. You see that so many things in your book that Tammany is really pro immigrant, but then you have big Tim Sullivan, who passes, gets this law of, uh, gun control, the Sullivan Act, like you said, that just, uh, was overturned, as we're speaking in 2023, about a year and a half, two years ago, and that was, you [00:19:00] would, Say that it was an anti immigration, uh, law.

What was sort of, um, what was the gun laws before and maybe what was the impetus of all of a sudden in that time period to get guns off of the streets, especially done by Tammany? Yeah, this is the law that involved, you know, concealed carry and, and required a permit, uh, which was not going to be granted to, uh, to Italian immigrants, most likely.

Uh, in fact, that was an issue that some of the parties raised in the recent Supreme Court case, uh, which actually did hinge on the history of, of, uh, gun laws. But, um, so it made it a felony, uh, it did a number of things to, to, to, you know, crack down on, uh, on gun crimes. Um, I found it impossible to read Big Tim's motives, uh, because he did arrange between reformer and, you know, ally of mob.

So, um, uh, but certainly in the newspapers, [00:20:00] the law was looked at as something to stop, uh, immigrant crime, especially by Italians, but others also, uh, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and others, but, um, uh, actually the events that. Yeah. Really triggered it were the shooting of mayor gainer, which had nothing to do with an immigrant.

And also there was, there was a, an author who was, who was murdered in Gramercy Park and, uh, and that, you know, had nothing to do with immigrants either. So, uh, yeah, it was portrayed as a measure to bring immigrants under control. And certainly some of the judges who sentenced people applied it that way and said, so, um, you know, this will your kind is going to.

You know, not do this anymore. You shouldn't be carrying guns. Of course, some Italian immigrants carried a gun because they, they, they were afraid, you know, and, and, uh, but there was a lot of gun violence. I also want to say it's, it's Italian immigrants were not [00:21:00] exceptionally prone to crime. There was a problem with violent crime.

A good part of that is because the Italian migration was mostly young men compared to other migrations. So young men. On their own, you know, yeah, they were crimes, mostly crimes of passion and stuff that, but if you looked at the numbers of people arrested, Italians weren't out of proportion. They, they were not heavy drinkers, which often causes a lot of crime.

So I don't want to say there was no problem. There was a problem with violent crime and, and this kind of growing gradually organizing crime, but. There was a widespread belief that Italians were prone to crime and, and it really was not true. And it was the Italian squad detectives kept trying to tell that to reporters.

They knew all the reporters, but somehow usually got lost by the side beneath the size of the headlines, you know. And there must have been an aspect that the Italians, like you said, they were majority young men, which young men commit a lot of crimes [00:22:00] compared to others, and that the Italians were the first major group to come who didn't speak English.

They had. At least, you know, um, we have discussed this in other episodes. There were German immigrants, but they were often wealthy and landowners, and they didn't, they weren't crime suspects generally just because of their situation where you have this massive, uh, influx of people who were Catholics, which wasn't, and to a lesser degree, the Jewish immigrants who were coming who didn't speak English and who were of a different religion.

Did that play upon the people who were... In the power structure and the people who are writing these newspaper articles. It certainly did. And there's one other factor, which is kind of out of our worldview now, but was very much a part of it then. And that's the whole eugenics thing, where you believe that by the shape of people's skull and things like that, that it tells you what race is [00:23:00] inferior or superior.

And Germans actually, even though they may have spoken English when they arrived, would not have that, that didn't tar them. They were Teutonic, you know, whereas Italians, Jews, anybody from southern Europe and Italy, the further south, you know, they, they had this idea that people were genetically inferior and therefore, no matter what they did, they wouldn't make good American citizens.

And people like the Italian squad commanders, Petrosino and those who followed him, they knew that they knew the people, they knew that they worked hard, that they were good people. And they kept trying to get that point across, uh, with not great success. We'll get into some of the brutal crimes that the squad addressed, but maybe we can just talk a little bit more about their methods.

So you brought up the rogues gallery, and I believe that's where that term was invented. That's pretty common place now. Third degree was another one that [00:24:00] I think was, uh, innovated with them. What were some of these methods that they use? Well, the superintendent, you know, who, uh, uh, was from the late 19th century, uh, Thomas Byrne, he, uh, he was known for the third degree and, uh, it involved, you know, uh, brutal questioning, uh, uh, he might, he might've said it didn't necessarily involve physical violence.

Um, but, you know, yeah, it was common and that's where the 3rd degree, uh, comes from. And I think you're right about the rogues gallery. Also, um, it was an early form of intelligence gathering. They would also do the Bertion method, which was a Frenchman designed this to take a very, very detailed measurements of the suspects body.

Uh, and and that was a form of criminal identification and fingerprinting was just coming into in this, uh, this decade. A lot of things happening in law enforcement in that period. Um, so, yeah, that [00:25:00] that's all happening. Yeah, you can really see at that time period where fingerprinting is a way to identify people.

That's. Holds on to being scientific, but then a lot of these ideas that were very unscientific, but had an air of scientism to them, like measuring cranial features, really do people discover that those aren't exactly workable. Yeah, that was really terrible, because... It wasn't, this wasn't like the uninformed people.

These were like leading professors who were backing this up and writing about it in scholarly journals. Uh, so, yeah, this, the so called smart people, uh, lean towards, towards that. And that I think affects how, how the courts, the journalists, how everybody kind of viewed this, this so called Italian problem, uh, at the time.

Some of those, some of the major crimes that happened were really brutal, especially if you think [00:26:00] about the mafia and later generations. They were things that they generally did not do in the United States, like kidnapping on a really massive scale. What were some of the really, uh, big crimes that the, that this Italian squad was fighting against?

Yeah, maybe some of their major crime. Well, uh, there, there, um, there was a wave of kidnappings and, and these would become national news. Uh, and they were really heartrending cases. Uh, so we have, we do have a series of, of children who were kidnapped. Some are returned. Uh, in some cases they're not. Um, and, uh, we have 1 interesting case.

A little bit later in the period around 1920, where they used a woman police officer, who was the only, uh, probably the first Italian American woman, uh, in the police, in the, uh, in the department, uh, Ray Nicoletti, and they placed her with the family whose child had been taken, [00:27:00] and, uh, she poses like a visiting cousin, but she was quick to recognize You know, who was doing this, there was a man living across the street who kept looking into the apartment and she asked the family about that man.

Oh, he's a good friend, you know, and and she knew that that's often how these kidnappings got started. Some so called friend of the family and then he came over and was offering to, like, I used to be in a gang. I, I can deal with these people. I'll negotiate it for you. And that's often the person who's part of the gang.

Uh, and and so she helped them to get. The, um, uh, the, the, the suspects arrested, uh, unfortunately, uh, the bosses then sprung the arrest too soon. Um, and they never recovered the, the victim, uh, they brought the defendants to the, to the station house and they, they just beat them brutally all night and, and let the, the [00:28:00] little missing little boy's father do the same.

Uh, yeah. And, you know, they, they just never got it. And that little boy was, was murdered by the gang. Uh, and they never got the main suspects, but it was, it's a, it's a sad case, but it's an interesting case. And it's interesting that really, as a, as a woman, a woman stepped into, uh, uh, uh, To really, uh, make the case, which, which was a big news, her picture was on the front page of the daily news when the arrest for me.

So that was 1 of the, uh, the many kidnapping cases that there were, um, uh, and people always were unsure whether to cooperate with the police or just pay off. You know, so that was always an issue in many different cases. What was the gang situation that the police and the Italian squad was fighting against?

It really wasn't what we would later consider organized Italian American crime. Was this really very diffuse at this [00:29:00] point? It's gradually becoming more organized. There was one group in the first decade of the 20th century that Joseph Petrosino and his successor, Anthony Vachris and others recognized as, you know, a more powerful crime group.

And, uh, there's a book by historian, uh, Mike Dash called The First Family that tells the history of, of that, uh, crime group, the Lupo Morello. Family, Giuseppe Morello, Ignazio Lupo. Um, and so they are coming together. They're probably the ones all evidence points towards them who are responsible responsible for Joseph Petrosino's murder in in Sicily.

Um, they both came over from Sicily, fleeing criminal charges. Um, they were not poor people, they came over, you know, people of some means that were like, middle class, I would say, when they arrived and set up businesses. And, uh, so, so that's, [00:30:00] that's a group that is sort of a crime family and differently from, you know, the black hand types, they had connections back to Italy too.

Um, back to Sicily and, uh, but the others were, were, were smaller gangs that eventually started doing what gangs can do is, you know, they start developing, uh, sources of income, regular sources of income and putting it into buying businesses and, and, and real estate and, and, uh, so you, you, you do start seeing this, This forming, uh, as you get into the later 1910s, early 1920s, but it's, it's really prohibition that in the 1920s makes these gangs powerful.

That, that, you know, and unfortunately that's around the time they disbanded the Italian squad in 1922. So, uh, the two going together is, it's not a surprise by 1930, you really have the. More the genesis of what we would [00:31:00] call the Mafia, American Mafia now, I think would be fair to say.

Steve here again with a quick word from our sponsors. Yeah, that's a, that's fascinating that the, just as the Italian squad is phasing out, that's when they really the pedal to the metal with the, with These, uh, Italian, um, American crime organizations get started. Well, why was this, uh, band, uh, Italian squad broken up?

Well, some of it is just internal politics of the police department. Who was favored, who was not. And they folded the, uh, the Italian squad into the bomb squad, um, which was at the time politically more important because they were very concerned about radicals. Uh, there were bombings, you know, anarchist bombings and so forth.

Um, there were a lot of arrests of people who just had political views were not [00:32:00] criminals, but, but, uh, but there was, there were issues with, with, with radical bombing, certainly some very serious ones. Um, so they were folded into the, uh, bomb squad, but really not, uh, that was really the end of it. They, they weren't, the bomb squad was not effective in, in, in doing the things the Italian squad had, had, had to do.

You know, I don't think, uh, catching the bootleggers was a huge political priority for the mayoral administrations in 1920s either. They, they're always defending themselves. And, you know, but so I think that's part of it too. I mean, there was a virtual outdoor marketplace, you know, like, a couple of blocks from from police headquarters, not.

Not where they were selling the actual booze, but where their deals were being made, uh, outdoors, you know, street corners, right, right, right there, uh, near the police headquarters in lower Manhattan. So, yeah, I don't think there was a lot of zeal for breaking up those gangs, uh, you know, also. So [00:33:00] it's a combination of things.

Didn't the Italian squad, uh, in large part break up, or at least kind of break up that first family, the Lupo Morello family? Uh, yeah, although the, the Secret Service, um, really did the heft there, provide the heft because, uh, it, it was a counterfeiting case that sent, uh, Lupo and Morello to jail for, uh, I think they both got very long sentences for counterfeiting, I think, because everybody sort of knew they were, they were also killers, but that, that wasn't, you know, part of the case.

Uh, Italian squad detectives helped with that. Um, the head of the secret service in New York, uh, uh, William Flynn, uh, not long after became the chief of the, uh, deputy commissioner in charge of detectives. And especially like working with the Italian squad. Uh, then he went on to head the entire secret service.

And then he, uh, went on to head the Bureau of Investigation, [00:34:00] which later, which not long after becomes the FBI. Um, so, uh, so he, he had a lot to do with, with those prosecutions. That Lupo Morello gang and the whole counterfeiting issue, that really seemed to me like that. felt more later mafia than just random gangs.

And you really do get the feeling that they were setting up something that would blossom into what we really know of as the mafia. Yes, I, I think, and, and Mike Dash traced that in his book, you know, how they become the first family, uh, even in, you know, 1908, 1909, they owned, they owned, you know, importing businesses.

You know, restaurant, things like that. They, they had their business interests. Um, they start, you know, they just start working on different levels. And, and so, you know, that's. The, the Luo Moreo family, uh, [00:35:00] that 'cause they're brothers-in-law. Um, it's like a, say a mob name. More, more familiar to people who know about the 1930s would be chiro Terranova.

He was part of that family, the so-called artichoke king, right. He controlled the artichoke market and stuff like that. Um, so yeah, they're taking over different, uh, commodity markets locally and, and becoming that kind of, Enterprise, we would, we would say we would call the American Mafia. And the last couple of sections of your book, and I highly recommend people go and read it.

I think they can listen to it. I think it's a very nice version. You really get into the, uh, the rest of the story, so to speak, on a lot of these people. And one of the things you mentioned that I thought was really interesting, and I don't think. I don't think I really knew of it, and most people probably don't.

People who are even aficionados of the mafiaa know that Moreo really kind of trained Joe, the [00:36:00] boss, mazare, who uh, later on trained some of the bigger, the biggest names like the, uh, Genovese and Lucky Luciano was the, but, but, but at this point, the Italian squad is pretty much gone. As a squad, but those officers, a lot of them are still around.

Did they ever try to tap into these guys to take on this next generation of the mafia? I mean, there are, um, there, you know, there are cases, uh, that are developed. A lot of times it would be the D. A. who like Manhattan D. A. or somebody who would step forward to, uh, to push it. Uh, like, with Luciano, um, but yeah, no, there are like, actually, Joseph Petrosino had a nephew who became a very accomplished detective.

Uh, and that nephew has other descendants who are involved in New York law enforcement still. Um, but, um. Yeah, I, I didn't really study the thirties, but, but that's, [00:37:00] there's been a lot of written, a lot of written on the mafia in the thirties in New York. And, and, uh, I didn't get the impression that the, the, the, the police were, were, uh, as big a threat as maybe some federal agents might've been at that time.

Uh, so, yeah, although, uh, you know, LaGuardia becomes. Mayor, and he certainly, uh, was clued in to, to fighting, uh, racketeers. Yeah. It seemed that a lot of the, the really. The, the cops that were, you know, really hard working in that department in that squad got pushed off to the margins. I mean, was it Vakris who was pretty much literally pushed to the margins where he was made the, I mean, you'd almost call him like the sheriff of City Island, which I didn't even realize City Island was a part of New York City proper.

But I mean, back then that might as well, it seemed like that might as well have put him in Alaska. Uh, Vakris. Was the head of the Italian [00:38:00] squad after Petrosino. In fact, he was the one who went to Italy to complete Petrosino's mission immediately after the murder, which, you know, took some, some bravery. Um, and I thought he was a very good cop.

He was both a good commander, but also a good detective himself. And he, he, uh, I guess he was not much of a politician because when the mayor and the police commissioner started to cut the Italian squad down to nothing. Not that long after Petrosino was murdered and he was this huge, uh, you know, martyr and everybody in the city, you know, wept for him and then not long after the, you know, they're cutting out the, the squad that Petrosino headed, um, and he, he started to, you know, make some waves and question that and in Brooklyn, the DA did a grand jury to investigate the closing of the Italian squad and.

He went in and testified before, and so pulled him out of [00:39:00] his post, his head of the Italian squad, uh, and sent him up to city island on patrol duty to on patrol. Not not as a detective anymore. He lived in Brooklyn. So, in those days to get to city island by by transit was like, you know, like a 4 hour trip or something.

And so he would just like, sleep over in the police station there at night and. So, yeah, they, they gave him what I think the police now call highway therapy. They, they, uh, and, um, even when he wanted to retire, they blocked his retirement, too. He had to go to court. He also had to go to court to get his rightful promotion to, to detective sergeant, uh, earlier on in his career.

So he was always, you know, he, he was an excellent cop. And, and he always had, and You could see that because judges, everybody had a good word to say for his work. Um, but yes, he was very much marginalized. And I guess 1 thing you do notice is that most of the Italian squad detectives, [00:40:00] you can't really pick.

A particular 1 and say, ah, he's a victim of discrimination, but when you start, you just do start seeing the pattern is that they're making very big cases and they're having a lot of trouble getting promoted to detective 1st grade. And almost no Italian detectives hold that rank. So I think there, there was discrimination against that.

I think it. The early 1930s, the, uh, Italian American police formed their, they formed the first ethnic association in the police department, the Columbia society. Um, and, uh, there's most many other groups are like that exist now, but they were the 1st. Yeah. One of the parts that I really enjoyed thoroughly about your book is that you included a lot of addresses.

So you could look up on Google Maps and look in some of the buildings. There was one of the houses. I want to say that it was Vacris's house, that it looked like it was built at about the time you said the current building that's there. And you could really feel that you were in these places. I felt that that was a really, [00:41:00] uh, I wish more books would do that where you really had.

Put yourself into the place and time. Thanks. I, I mean, I like to do that. Um, because, you know, I know I would want to see know where that house was. And, and, uh, yeah, I hadn't thought of that. You can look it up on Google Maps. The city archive also has online. You could see all the buildings that were photographed in 1940.

So that gives you, uh, you know, Uh, even closer time period to see what the building looked like, uh, back back at that time. So, yeah, I, I, I, it's, I think visualizing the places is important. You think that the Italian squad helped Italians move from being a immigrant marginalized group and to really the mainstream?

I do 1st of all, just by being, uh, sort of heroes to the public, you know, hero cops. I think that we've seen that with succeeding generations of [00:42:00] immigrants and minority groups to that that that that plays a role. Um, I think they. Eventually, the Italian community, you know, becomes very much a part of the police department to the point where you get to the 1960s, and they were just as opposed as the Irish to, uh, say, creating a civilian oversight board, you know, uh, that was a big 1 of the big issues in the 60s.

And, and, you know, play a major role in the police and fire department to similar situation. Um, so they do play that role. I, I think they, they help make Italians a little more trusting in the, in the police department that they can never overcome when they would make a big case. That only seemed to tell the public more that Italians were bad people because here this big headline.

So, uh, uh, and and so I can't say if they won that battle on their own, but eventually, uh, this is actually kind of how the Italians and [00:43:00] Irish came together is the theme of the previous book. I did, uh. And some of it does have to do with people in the public eye like Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra, and I think the Italian squad cops are, you know, in there, uh, also in their way.

You get to 19, LaGuardia's last mayoral campaign in the 40s, uh, he, he, he goes against Paul O'Dwyer, who, uh, no, William O'Dwyer, who was, um, Irish born, uh, and defeats him, but more Italians voted for O'Dwyer than for LaGuardia. So, you start to see the lines getting blurred, and after World War II, the two groups start to intermarry in a big way.

Um, so, yeah, I think they contributed to that, but, but it was a fight that they couldn't win on their own. I wonder, you, this is such a, uh, personality and character driven, uh, non fiction book. If the, of all the people [00:44:00] who you profile, and I'm sure you did, I mean, the, so much research and you're trying to get into the minds of these people, if there was one you could meet and have a cup of coffee with, who would you, who really stuck with you?

Well, I really admired Anthony Vakaris, uh, and I knew him a little better than most of the others because He, uh, his family had kept a diary that he had of the undercover trip. He took to Italy. Uh, so, you know, through a diary, you get to know somebody a little more intimately. So I think of all that's a great question.

I hadn't thought of it, but I think, um, that's my, my immediate reaction is I, I would like to meet and interview him. I'm a Brooklynite and he was a Brooklynite. Uh, in fact, I, I sort of discerned that he, he had a very close relationship with the Brooklyn's major newspaper, the Eagle, which. So Tend to say what he thought, whether it was attributed to him or not.

So, um, yeah, I would, I would like to sit down and have a, maybe a coffee or a beer with, with, with [00:45:00] accuracy. Yeah. You think this is a theme that you'll, I mean, not to move past this book, because people should really check it out, but is this, are these themes you want to, you're developing more in future projects of.

I don't have anything on the table right now. I'm supposed to be retired, but I like to do this project at some point. Um, but no, I'll, I'll speak on the book and maybe try and develop something, something cinematic from it. And, uh, but, uh, I don't think I'm gonna, uh, do another 1. I'm, I'm, I'm half Italian. My mother's parents were both from, uh, Calabria and Basilicata, and I've explored that in two books.

So my, my father, uh, late father was a, a German Jewish refugee from Hitler. So a number of people have said to me, well, what about the Jewish side? So, so I have to, I have to think maybe of, uh, of looking there too, for, uh, for, uh, uh, a story. We'll see. Yeah, there's definitely a story there. And I think that this is a, This would be a [00:46:00] great project for a movie if somebody's out there looking to produce a movie.

I think that this could be a really great movie. Well, thanks. I hope you're right. I've been, my son, you know, is a writer, screenwriter and television writer. And so we've been working together on putting together something. So hopefully, you never know. Well, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show.

Uh, if people want to hear more or learn more about this, they should definitely check out your book on The Italian Squad, The True Story of the Immigrant Cops Who Fought the Rise of the Mafia by Paul Moses. Thank you so much for coming on, Paul. Well, thanks so much, Stephen. It was really enjoyable chat. I really appreciate it.

You've been listening to Organized Crime and Punishment, a history and crime podcast. To learn more about what you heard today, find links to social media, and how to support the show, go [00:47:00] to our website, A to Z HistoryPage. com. Become a friend of ours by sending us an email to crime at a to z history page dot com.

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เนื้อหาจัดทำโดย Steve and Organized Crime เนื้อหาพอดแคสต์ทั้งหมด รวมถึงตอน กราฟิก และคำอธิบายพอดแคสต์ได้รับการอัปโหลดและจัดเตรียมโดย Steve and Organized Crime หรือพันธมิตรแพลตฟอร์มพอดแคสต์โดยตรง หากคุณเชื่อว่ามีบุคคลอื่นใช้งานที่มีลิขสิทธิ์ของคุณโดยไม่ได้รับอนุญาต คุณสามารถปฏิบัติตามขั้นตอนที่อธิบายไว้ที่นี่ https://th.player.fm/legal

Title: The Italian Squad: Unmasking New York's Crimefighters

Original Publication Date: 10/4/2023

Transcript URL: https://share.descript.com/view/gYDhPsotOyw

Description: In this episode of "Organized Crime and Punishment," we are joined by author Paul Moses to dive deep into the pages of his latest work, "The Italian Squad." This gripping narrative explores the fascinating history of law enforcement's battle against organized crime, specifically focusing on the dedicated officers of the Italian Squad.

The Italian Squad, formed in the early 20th century, played a pivotal role in dismantling powerful criminal syndicates in New York City. Moses' book sheds light on their relentless pursuit of justice, often at great personal risk.

Key takeaways include the Squad's innovative investigative techniques, their impact on organized crime, and the enduring legacy of these courageous officers. We also discuss the broader implications of their work in the context of today's criminal justice system.

#OrganizedCrime #TheItalianSquad #LawEnforcement #TrueCrime #PodcastDiscussion

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Begin Transcript:

[00:00:00] Welcome to Organized Crime and Punishment, the best spot in town to hang out and talk about history and crime with your hosts, Steve and Mustache Chris.

Welcome back to Organized Crime and Punishment. Steve here, uh, with a special interview with a really fascinating topic, and it's a topic that, uh, Mustache Chris and I will definitely dive into more, but this was just the perfect opportunity to talk with Paul Moses, who is the author of The Italian Squad.

The true story of the immigrant cops who fought the rise [00:01:00] of the mafia. And this is a really fascinating story because it falls outside of what most people traditionally think of the mafia in the timeline of generally the later part of the 20th century. And this is going way back. So Paul, maybe you can tell us, um, what got you interested in this topic of the Italian squad?

Sure. Well, I had done a previous book called an unlikely union, the love hate story of New York's Irish and Italians. And in that book, I focused, uh, I had one chapter on what it was like for people within the Italian immigrants in the NYPD, uh, to try to advance in a department that was really, uh, very much controlled by the Irish, uh, either immigrants or later generations.

And they, they had a rough time of it, and the Italian community itself had, had pretty, um, rough relations with the, uh, NYPD in, in that, in that [00:02:00] era. Uh, there was a lot of ethnic friction. So, in doing that, I included a chapter that told the story of, uh, Joseph Petrosino, who was the founding detective of the, uh, NYPD's Italian squad in 1904.

And from the, mostly from the point of view of what it was like for him as an Italian immigrant to try to be the go between between the Italian community and the NYPD so. His story is really interesting. It's, it's been told quite a bit, but I saw that he's after Petrosino. He's, he's murdered while on a mission to Sicily in 1909.

Um, and generally stories about the Italian squad, uh, kind of stopped there, but the squad went on to 1922 and I saw that that. Part of the story really wasn't told that much. And it was just as fascinating as the better known story of Joseph Petruzzino's service. It's a fascinating story because Petruzzino goes, [00:03:00] maybe we can, before we even get into Petruzzino and the whole story of the Italian squad, they're fighting against Organized Italian organized crime, and it's referred to at that time as period as the Black Hand.

What was the Black Hand? Yeah, the Black Hand, uh, was seen by many people in that time as being, uh, a giant, uh, sinister underground organization probably controlled by criminals in Italy. It wasn't that at all. It wasn't a mafia kind of thing. It was really in the isolated or independent groups of thugs who realized that if you sent a letter to somebody with a black hand on it and use enough threats that it may force somebody to to pay off.

And so it actually really found its oxygen in the news coverage that made it seem like a, uh, international conspiracy. Uh, and [00:04:00] that's not to say that people using the black hand label or to be taken lightly. Uh, you know, they did many bombings, kidnappings and serious crimes that that needed to be tamped down.

One interesting thing about the whole story before we even get into New York is Joseph Petruzzino, which you said, uh, you know, his story is pretty well known, but he did it. He was killed in Italy and his, uh, the subsequent leader of the Italian squad. Worked in Italy, and one of the things that I found was really interesting is like, well, under what authority was the NYPD operating in a sovereign country?

And was that something that was common? Was the, did people think like, was there just no other mechanism for the FBI or what that didn't really exist at that point, but other agencies to do that? The NYPD just opens up office in a foreign country and is doing intelligence and all. And all sorts of other police [00:05:00] work.

Yeah. Part of the problem was that the federal government really, uh, should have been doing this kind of work. Uh, no, it, it was a, it was a, um, authorized trip in that the police department arranged it through our state department, which in turn. dealt with the Italian foreign ministry. So, um, you know, he was there, uh, Petrosino, but he was distrustful of the Italian authorities and he didn't want them to protect him.

So, uh, so, and he was. They're primarily to gather some records of people who are criminal records in Italy, which would enable him to come back to New York and get them deported under a certain federal law. But, um, so that relationship. You know, it just wasn't giving the records in the time that they needed them.

So he wanted to straighten that out. He was also doing some things that may have been a little under the radar. Maybe the State Department wasn't fully aware of, like, [00:06:00] trying to find his own sources, um, you know, making connections with people that that was that part of it was a little under the radar.

But he went over there, he met the, the, the chief of all Italian police in Rome, you know, when he arrived, so it was above board. What was the genesis of the Italian squad? Where did they come up with this idea to set up a special police unit of Italian, uh, American officers and detectives? It comes from really two places.

One is the Italian community itself. Which felt the police really didn't understand their community couldn't speak the language and maybe didn't even care that much if unless somebody else other than Italians was a crime victim. Secondly, the newspapers were really building building up the threat of of Italian immigrant crime.

And so between the newspapers and the Italian community itself, which, which really was, uh, wanted better policing, um, that kind of forced the hand of the, uh, police [00:07:00] commissioner to create a small, uh, squad headed by Petrosino in 1904. You, uh, discuss this a lot in the book, but what was the thought of the Italian American people at that time?

Because you, there was a high crime rate amongst Italians. Often by people inside of their own community, but, uh, an issue that we'll get into later, some of the times this Italian squad was using some pretty rough policing techniques, what did the people think about these issues? I didn't see any broad pushback, uh, maybe partly because all the police use pretty rough methods at that time.

Uh, you know, Joseph Petrosina was trained by, you know, the leading, you know, detective commander of his day. And some of that method was, uh, uh, you know, extra judicial, uh, let's say, um, and, uh, uh, Primarily, [00:08:00] the, the, really the reaction was that they, they wanted decent policing, but, uh, and they wanted it to be done by people who understood their community in some ways, a lot, like we see today, people want policing.

They, they just don't want it to feel like an invading force, you know, and I think that was the same thing. And the strength of the Italian squad detectors was that they knew the community, um, and people will come and talk to them who probably wouldn't have gone down and talk to somebody. I didn't feel connected to.

Um, eventually there is some pushback because, you know, leaders of the Italian community, political leaders start to say, why is there an Italian squad? Every ethnicity has gangs. Why? Why is there only one? And so eventually there was some pushback in politics against having a quote unquote Italian squad.

I didn't see it initially though. I think. Italian Americans were by and large proud of the successes of these detectives who were often written about in glowing terms in the newspapers. Um, [00:09:00] certainly, among criminals, there was a lot of anger and resentment, uh, though, that was building up and that may have actually contributed to the plot to murder Joseph Petrosino when he ventured off into Italy.

There was a, there was a real conflict between the... The prevailing, uh, administration of the police department and these sort of up and comers with the Italians, who was really the, running the police department in the late 1800s, early 1900s in cities like New York City? Well, I found in the early 1900s that a lot of times the mayors had a really strong hand in it, but their interest was often from a political angle.

Um, Then, you know, there were the inspectors who were very powerful figures, uh, and some of them corrupt. Uh, the, um, in the mid 1890s, of course, Teddy Roosevelt famously played a role as as the head of the what they then called the police board of [00:10:00] commissioners. And he was actually the one who promoted Joseph Petrosino to a detective.

Um, so, yeah, the leadership, uh, the commissioners came and went not unlike today, uh, because I think policing is a very politically sensitive issue for the mayor and I think many mayors in New York history have been undone by. How the public view the police department and what they wanted from it. Um, so mayors played a lot pretty close attention and whoever held these top posts like chief of detectives that that has to go through city hall.

And at that time, that meant off mentality hall to. And Tammany Hall and a lot of these organizations were run by the Irish. What sort of political machinations and operations did these predominantly Irish police departments and governmental organizations, well, how did they operate? Yeah, I mean, [00:11:00] there was always an issue about, about corruption.

There was a pretty strong reform movement to sort of Republican slash reform movement, uh, progressive that, and that, that, that movement was also somewhat anti immigrant, um, in my opinion, that there's that influence. And then Tammany is, is, you know, kind of absorbing the immigrants in a lot of ways. Um, Tammany has gambling interests.

There's no question about that. So, uh, your district leaders in Tammany, uh, you know, wanted a police commissioner who was not going to get in the way of those gambling interests. So, and then the mayors themselves are under pressure from the reform side, you know, to really clamp down on, on, uh. Police graft, so those forces kind of come at mayors from both directions, and they sort of have to find their way through that.

And sometimes they lean heavily towards the reform side. Sometimes they kind of give a bit so they can have good relations with certain leaders. And it does actually affect. [00:12:00] The work of the Italian squad and what it can do and not do the whole idea of civil rights. There was really, I mean, I guess throughout the whole history of the United States, and this is a theme that we discuss a lot in this current series of the podcast, but there's always been a push and a pull between.

Preserving civil, civil liberties and being tough on crime. And it seemed like this, that was really playing out in particular within this discussion of the Italian squad. What were some of the abuses of civil liberties and then some of the, the pushback against that to preserve civil liberties? I, the, there was really a very wanton use of the nightstick in those days, and I don't, I don't, in a way, pin that on the Italian squad detectives.

They were typically not out trying to get a bunch of people out of a bar or things like that. But, but they were very free with the nightsticks and to the point that, um, [00:13:00] eventually the people, the city elected a mayor who was, who was really an ardent civil libertarian, uh, Judge William Gaynor. Thank you.

Uh, he was elected in 1910, and, uh, he made, you know, uh, police violence a high priority. He would, he would, you know, investigate the cases himself. He would get complaints in the mail and call the officers in. Um, with the Italian squad, I think their great frustration was that they often knew more than they could prove in court because people would talk to them, but they were not willing to testify.

So, uh, that's where you might get a Joseph Petrosian or going to somebody and say, I'm threatening them or more. Uh, and and, uh, and so their, their use of, uh, violence centers be targeted, I think, to people, they, they thought were criminals, but, but, you know, couldn't have trouble prosecuting. Um, that that's what I noticed, uh, and looking at it closely, which is not to excuse it, but that that that's, that's, uh, kind of how it how it played out.

[00:14:00] Um, yeah. There was also a big issue with what we would now call gang databases. In those days, they would post photos of people who they arrested on the wall in the detective bureau, and detectives would look at those, and then when they're trying to, you know, find suspects for a crime, they would, you know, look for those people again.

And and they call it the rogues gallery, and that became a huge controversy and actually led mayor gainer to let go of the police commissioner, who was probably the Italian squad's greatest supporter. Uh, uh, general, uh, Theodore Bingham was his name, uh, sort of, uh. Teddy Roosevelt knockoff kind of, uh, not, not, not, not certainly not as brilliant as Teddy Roosevelt, but, but very brusque and, you know, I can do anything strong and he made a lot of enemies, especially in Tammany Hall.

And eventually, you know, the mayor removed him, but, um, over, over this whole issue of the Rose Gallery. Uh, so, yeah, um, civil liberties, I guess, issues are nothing new. People were concerned about [00:15:00] them back then also, um, as they are today. Steve here. We are a member of the Parthenon Podcast Network featuring great shows like Scott Rank's History Unplugged Podcast and other great podcasts.

Go to ParthenonPodcast. com to learn more. And here is a quick word from our sponsors. I found that dub. Mayor Gaynor was a really, probably one of the most surprising people of a book full of surprising people. I think you could have transported him to 2010, and he would be on the cutting edge of civil liberties.

Yeah, it's rare to see somebody who's so ardent a civil libertarian get to a position, you know, uh, at like mayor of a big city and, uh, yeah, he, he was, uh, uh, you know, old fashioned, uh, uh, you know, very tough, uh, uh, [00:16:00] tough guy. Brilliant, could have been president. Even people thought he was shot while he was in office by a disgruntled office seeker and kind of lingered in office with the bullet still in his throat.

He died before his term actually ended. Um, this is kind of a sad story, but he was, had been a Brooklyn judge who took on the machines in Brooklyn, you know, and fought his way up and he was a maverick, true maverick. And, and, and I think in that era, that, you know, progressive era, you know, people like that.

Uh, Tammany eventually backed him just because they wanted to back a winner, but he, he had no use for Tammany, even though he went with their support. Maybe we could talk a little bit more about Tammany because Tammany is always looming in the background. What is their power? Because they're starting to, they really start to fade out.

Is there, is this peak Tammany at this point, even in the early 1900s? Well, they had a boss named Charlie Murphy, who was pretty brilliant [00:17:00] and not, not a boss tweet type who, who was a hundred percent thoroughly corrupt. Uh, um, and, uh, you know what, they were the ones reaching out to immigrants. Uh, they had, uh, uh, the boss on the Lower East Side, big Tim Sullivan was, was he, yeah, he was totally in bed with the gambling.

Probably prostitution interests, but he was also the 1 who was, you know, providing services and going to the legislature to try to get laws that would, you know, help help working people, you know, in the factories. Uh, also famously passed the, um, major gun control law of New York state, uh, the Solomon law, which only recently got struck down by the Supreme Court.

Um, so I kind of. I guess, as a kind of former newspaper reporter myself, I always kind of view them as totally corrupt. There's been a book by a historian and journalist, um, uh, uh, Terry, Terry Galway that that takes a somewhat [00:18:00] revisionist view and actually, in some ways, Tammany was really the ramp for some of the reforms of the, um, that, that theater, uh, Franklin Roosevelt made later, you know, through Al Smith, that concern about working people was also there.

So it's. It's not a big, massive evil, but they weren't, yeah, they did, there was a lot of mischief. Um, uh, uh, and, uh, I wouldn't say they were solidly behind the working person, an immigrant too, because they had other interests that would undercut that sometimes, but it's, it's, it's, it's, it's, it's more nuanced, I think, than I thought before I started researching the book.

Yeah. You see that so many things in your book that Tammany is really pro immigrant, but then you have big Tim Sullivan, who passes, gets this law of, uh, gun control, the Sullivan Act, like you said, that just, uh, was overturned, as we're speaking in 2023, about a year and a half, two years ago, and that was, you [00:19:00] would, Say that it was an anti immigration, uh, law.

What was sort of, um, what was the gun laws before and maybe what was the impetus of all of a sudden in that time period to get guns off of the streets, especially done by Tammany? Yeah, this is the law that involved, you know, concealed carry and, and required a permit, uh, which was not going to be granted to, uh, to Italian immigrants, most likely.

Uh, in fact, that was an issue that some of the parties raised in the recent Supreme Court case, uh, which actually did hinge on the history of, of, uh, gun laws. But, um, so it made it a felony, uh, it did a number of things to, to, to, you know, crack down on, uh, on gun crimes. Um, I found it impossible to read Big Tim's motives, uh, because he did arrange between reformer and, you know, ally of mob.

So, um, uh, but certainly in the newspapers, [00:20:00] the law was looked at as something to stop, uh, immigrant crime, especially by Italians, but others also, uh, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and others, but, um, uh, actually the events that. Yeah. Really triggered it were the shooting of mayor gainer, which had nothing to do with an immigrant.

And also there was, there was a, an author who was, who was murdered in Gramercy Park and, uh, and that, you know, had nothing to do with immigrants either. So, uh, yeah, it was portrayed as a measure to bring immigrants under control. And certainly some of the judges who sentenced people applied it that way and said, so, um, you know, this will your kind is going to.

You know, not do this anymore. You shouldn't be carrying guns. Of course, some Italian immigrants carried a gun because they, they, they were afraid, you know, and, and, uh, but there was a lot of gun violence. I also want to say it's, it's Italian immigrants were not [00:21:00] exceptionally prone to crime. There was a problem with violent crime.

A good part of that is because the Italian migration was mostly young men compared to other migrations. So young men. On their own, you know, yeah, they were crimes, mostly crimes of passion and stuff that, but if you looked at the numbers of people arrested, Italians weren't out of proportion. They, they were not heavy drinkers, which often causes a lot of crime.

So I don't want to say there was no problem. There was a problem with violent crime and, and this kind of growing gradually organizing crime, but. There was a widespread belief that Italians were prone to crime and, and it really was not true. And it was the Italian squad detectives kept trying to tell that to reporters.

They knew all the reporters, but somehow usually got lost by the side beneath the size of the headlines, you know. And there must have been an aspect that the Italians, like you said, they were majority young men, which young men commit a lot of crimes [00:22:00] compared to others, and that the Italians were the first major group to come who didn't speak English.

They had. At least, you know, um, we have discussed this in other episodes. There were German immigrants, but they were often wealthy and landowners, and they didn't, they weren't crime suspects generally just because of their situation where you have this massive, uh, influx of people who were Catholics, which wasn't, and to a lesser degree, the Jewish immigrants who were coming who didn't speak English and who were of a different religion.

Did that play upon the people who were... In the power structure and the people who are writing these newspaper articles. It certainly did. And there's one other factor, which is kind of out of our worldview now, but was very much a part of it then. And that's the whole eugenics thing, where you believe that by the shape of people's skull and things like that, that it tells you what race is [00:23:00] inferior or superior.

And Germans actually, even though they may have spoken English when they arrived, would not have that, that didn't tar them. They were Teutonic, you know, whereas Italians, Jews, anybody from southern Europe and Italy, the further south, you know, they, they had this idea that people were genetically inferior and therefore, no matter what they did, they wouldn't make good American citizens.

And people like the Italian squad commanders, Petrosino and those who followed him, they knew that they knew the people, they knew that they worked hard, that they were good people. And they kept trying to get that point across, uh, with not great success. We'll get into some of the brutal crimes that the squad addressed, but maybe we can just talk a little bit more about their methods.

So you brought up the rogues gallery, and I believe that's where that term was invented. That's pretty common place now. Third degree was another one that [00:24:00] I think was, uh, innovated with them. What were some of these methods that they use? Well, the superintendent, you know, who, uh, uh, was from the late 19th century, uh, Thomas Byrne, he, uh, he was known for the third degree and, uh, it involved, you know, uh, brutal questioning, uh, uh, he might, he might've said it didn't necessarily involve physical violence.

Um, but, you know, yeah, it was common and that's where the 3rd degree, uh, comes from. And I think you're right about the rogues gallery. Also, um, it was an early form of intelligence gathering. They would also do the Bertion method, which was a Frenchman designed this to take a very, very detailed measurements of the suspects body.

Uh, and and that was a form of criminal identification and fingerprinting was just coming into in this, uh, this decade. A lot of things happening in law enforcement in that period. Um, so, yeah, that [00:25:00] that's all happening. Yeah, you can really see at that time period where fingerprinting is a way to identify people.

That's. Holds on to being scientific, but then a lot of these ideas that were very unscientific, but had an air of scientism to them, like measuring cranial features, really do people discover that those aren't exactly workable. Yeah, that was really terrible, because... It wasn't, this wasn't like the uninformed people.

These were like leading professors who were backing this up and writing about it in scholarly journals. Uh, so, yeah, this, the so called smart people, uh, lean towards, towards that. And that I think affects how, how the courts, the journalists, how everybody kind of viewed this, this so called Italian problem, uh, at the time.

Some of those, some of the major crimes that happened were really brutal, especially if you think [00:26:00] about the mafia and later generations. They were things that they generally did not do in the United States, like kidnapping on a really massive scale. What were some of the really, uh, big crimes that the, that this Italian squad was fighting against?

Yeah, maybe some of their major crime. Well, uh, there, there, um, there was a wave of kidnappings and, and these would become national news. Uh, and they were really heartrending cases. Uh, so we have, we do have a series of, of children who were kidnapped. Some are returned. Uh, in some cases they're not. Um, and, uh, we have 1 interesting case.

A little bit later in the period around 1920, where they used a woman police officer, who was the only, uh, probably the first Italian American woman, uh, in the police, in the, uh, in the department, uh, Ray Nicoletti, and they placed her with the family whose child had been taken, [00:27:00] and, uh, she poses like a visiting cousin, but she was quick to recognize You know, who was doing this, there was a man living across the street who kept looking into the apartment and she asked the family about that man.

Oh, he's a good friend, you know, and and she knew that that's often how these kidnappings got started. Some so called friend of the family and then he came over and was offering to, like, I used to be in a gang. I, I can deal with these people. I'll negotiate it for you. And that's often the person who's part of the gang.

Uh, and and so she helped them to get. The, um, uh, the, the, the suspects arrested, uh, unfortunately, uh, the bosses then sprung the arrest too soon. Um, and they never recovered the, the victim, uh, they brought the defendants to the, to the station house and they, they just beat them brutally all night and, and let the, the [00:28:00] little missing little boy's father do the same.

Uh, yeah. And, you know, they, they just never got it. And that little boy was, was murdered by the gang. Uh, and they never got the main suspects, but it was, it's a, it's a sad case, but it's an interesting case. And it's interesting that really, as a, as a woman, a woman stepped into, uh, uh, uh, To really, uh, make the case, which, which was a big news, her picture was on the front page of the daily news when the arrest for me.

So that was 1 of the, uh, the many kidnapping cases that there were, um, uh, and people always were unsure whether to cooperate with the police or just pay off. You know, so that was always an issue in many different cases. What was the gang situation that the police and the Italian squad was fighting against?

It really wasn't what we would later consider organized Italian American crime. Was this really very diffuse at this [00:29:00] point? It's gradually becoming more organized. There was one group in the first decade of the 20th century that Joseph Petrosino and his successor, Anthony Vachris and others recognized as, you know, a more powerful crime group.

And, uh, there's a book by historian, uh, Mike Dash called The First Family that tells the history of, of that, uh, crime group, the Lupo Morello. Family, Giuseppe Morello, Ignazio Lupo. Um, and so they are coming together. They're probably the ones all evidence points towards them who are responsible responsible for Joseph Petrosino's murder in in Sicily.

Um, they both came over from Sicily, fleeing criminal charges. Um, they were not poor people, they came over, you know, people of some means that were like, middle class, I would say, when they arrived and set up businesses. And, uh, so, so that's, [00:30:00] that's a group that is sort of a crime family and differently from, you know, the black hand types, they had connections back to Italy too.

Um, back to Sicily and, uh, but the others were, were, were smaller gangs that eventually started doing what gangs can do is, you know, they start developing, uh, sources of income, regular sources of income and putting it into buying businesses and, and, and real estate and, and, uh, so you, you, you do start seeing this, This forming, uh, as you get into the later 1910s, early 1920s, but it's, it's really prohibition that in the 1920s makes these gangs powerful.

That, that, you know, and unfortunately that's around the time they disbanded the Italian squad in 1922. So, uh, the two going together is, it's not a surprise by 1930, you really have the. More the genesis of what we would [00:31:00] call the Mafia, American Mafia now, I think would be fair to say.

Steve here again with a quick word from our sponsors. Yeah, that's a, that's fascinating that the, just as the Italian squad is phasing out, that's when they really the pedal to the metal with the, with These, uh, Italian, um, American crime organizations get started. Well, why was this, uh, band, uh, Italian squad broken up?

Well, some of it is just internal politics of the police department. Who was favored, who was not. And they folded the, uh, the Italian squad into the bomb squad, um, which was at the time politically more important because they were very concerned about radicals. Uh, there were bombings, you know, anarchist bombings and so forth.

Um, there were a lot of arrests of people who just had political views were not [00:32:00] criminals, but, but, uh, but there was, there were issues with, with, with radical bombing, certainly some very serious ones. Um, so they were folded into the, uh, bomb squad, but really not, uh, that was really the end of it. They, they weren't, the bomb squad was not effective in, in, in doing the things the Italian squad had, had, had to do.

You know, I don't think, uh, catching the bootleggers was a huge political priority for the mayoral administrations in 1920s either. They, they're always defending themselves. And, you know, but so I think that's part of it too. I mean, there was a virtual outdoor marketplace, you know, like, a couple of blocks from from police headquarters, not.

Not where they were selling the actual booze, but where their deals were being made, uh, outdoors, you know, street corners, right, right, right there, uh, near the police headquarters in lower Manhattan. So, yeah, I don't think there was a lot of zeal for breaking up those gangs, uh, you know, also. So [00:33:00] it's a combination of things.

Didn't the Italian squad, uh, in large part break up, or at least kind of break up that first family, the Lupo Morello family? Uh, yeah, although the, the Secret Service, um, really did the heft there, provide the heft because, uh, it, it was a counterfeiting case that sent, uh, Lupo and Morello to jail for, uh, I think they both got very long sentences for counterfeiting, I think, because everybody sort of knew they were, they were also killers, but that, that wasn't, you know, part of the case.

Uh, Italian squad detectives helped with that. Um, the head of the secret service in New York, uh, uh, William Flynn, uh, not long after became the chief of the, uh, deputy commissioner in charge of detectives. And especially like working with the Italian squad. Uh, then he went on to head the entire secret service.

And then he, uh, went on to head the Bureau of Investigation, [00:34:00] which later, which not long after becomes the FBI. Um, so, uh, so he, he had a lot to do with, with those prosecutions. That Lupo Morello gang and the whole counterfeiting issue, that really seemed to me like that. felt more later mafia than just random gangs.

And you really do get the feeling that they were setting up something that would blossom into what we really know of as the mafia. Yes, I, I think, and, and Mike Dash traced that in his book, you know, how they become the first family, uh, even in, you know, 1908, 1909, they owned, they owned, you know, importing businesses.

You know, restaurant, things like that. They, they had their business interests. Um, they start, you know, they just start working on different levels. And, and so, you know, that's. The, the Luo Moreo family, uh, [00:35:00] that 'cause they're brothers-in-law. Um, it's like a, say a mob name. More, more familiar to people who know about the 1930s would be chiro Terranova.

He was part of that family, the so-called artichoke king, right. He controlled the artichoke market and stuff like that. Um, so yeah, they're taking over different, uh, commodity markets locally and, and becoming that kind of, Enterprise, we would, we would say we would call the American Mafia. And the last couple of sections of your book, and I highly recommend people go and read it.

I think they can listen to it. I think it's a very nice version. You really get into the, uh, the rest of the story, so to speak, on a lot of these people. And one of the things you mentioned that I thought was really interesting, and I don't think. I don't think I really knew of it, and most people probably don't.

People who are even aficionados of the mafiaa know that Moreo really kind of trained Joe, the [00:36:00] boss, mazare, who uh, later on trained some of the bigger, the biggest names like the, uh, Genovese and Lucky Luciano was the, but, but, but at this point, the Italian squad is pretty much gone. As a squad, but those officers, a lot of them are still around.

Did they ever try to tap into these guys to take on this next generation of the mafia? I mean, there are, um, there, you know, there are cases, uh, that are developed. A lot of times it would be the D. A. who like Manhattan D. A. or somebody who would step forward to, uh, to push it. Uh, like, with Luciano, um, but yeah, no, there are like, actually, Joseph Petrosino had a nephew who became a very accomplished detective.

Uh, and that nephew has other descendants who are involved in New York law enforcement still. Um, but, um. Yeah, I, I didn't really study the thirties, but, but that's, [00:37:00] there's been a lot of written, a lot of written on the mafia in the thirties in New York. And, and, uh, I didn't get the impression that the, the, the, the police were, were, uh, as big a threat as maybe some federal agents might've been at that time.

Uh, so, yeah, although, uh, you know, LaGuardia becomes. Mayor, and he certainly, uh, was clued in to, to fighting, uh, racketeers. Yeah. It seemed that a lot of the, the really. The, the cops that were, you know, really hard working in that department in that squad got pushed off to the margins. I mean, was it Vakris who was pretty much literally pushed to the margins where he was made the, I mean, you'd almost call him like the sheriff of City Island, which I didn't even realize City Island was a part of New York City proper.

But I mean, back then that might as well, it seemed like that might as well have put him in Alaska. Uh, Vakris. Was the head of the Italian [00:38:00] squad after Petrosino. In fact, he was the one who went to Italy to complete Petrosino's mission immediately after the murder, which, you know, took some, some bravery. Um, and I thought he was a very good cop.

He was both a good commander, but also a good detective himself. And he, he, uh, I guess he was not much of a politician because when the mayor and the police commissioner started to cut the Italian squad down to nothing. Not that long after Petrosino was murdered and he was this huge, uh, you know, martyr and everybody in the city, you know, wept for him and then not long after the, you know, they're cutting out the, the squad that Petrosino headed, um, and he, he started to, you know, make some waves and question that and in Brooklyn, the DA did a grand jury to investigate the closing of the Italian squad and.

He went in and testified before, and so pulled him out of [00:39:00] his post, his head of the Italian squad, uh, and sent him up to city island on patrol duty to on patrol. Not not as a detective anymore. He lived in Brooklyn. So, in those days to get to city island by by transit was like, you know, like a 4 hour trip or something.

And so he would just like, sleep over in the police station there at night and. So, yeah, they, they gave him what I think the police now call highway therapy. They, they, uh, and, um, even when he wanted to retire, they blocked his retirement, too. He had to go to court. He also had to go to court to get his rightful promotion to, to detective sergeant, uh, earlier on in his career.

So he was always, you know, he, he was an excellent cop. And, and he always had, and You could see that because judges, everybody had a good word to say for his work. Um, but yes, he was very much marginalized. And I guess 1 thing you do notice is that most of the Italian squad detectives, [00:40:00] you can't really pick.

A particular 1 and say, ah, he's a victim of discrimination, but when you start, you just do start seeing the pattern is that they're making very big cases and they're having a lot of trouble getting promoted to detective 1st grade. And almost no Italian detectives hold that rank. So I think there, there was discrimination against that.

I think it. The early 1930s, the, uh, Italian American police formed their, they formed the first ethnic association in the police department, the Columbia society. Um, and, uh, there's most many other groups are like that exist now, but they were the 1st. Yeah. One of the parts that I really enjoyed thoroughly about your book is that you included a lot of addresses.

So you could look up on Google Maps and look in some of the buildings. There was one of the houses. I want to say that it was Vacris's house, that it looked like it was built at about the time you said the current building that's there. And you could really feel that you were in these places. I felt that that was a really, [00:41:00] uh, I wish more books would do that where you really had.

Put yourself into the place and time. Thanks. I, I mean, I like to do that. Um, because, you know, I know I would want to see know where that house was. And, and, uh, yeah, I hadn't thought of that. You can look it up on Google Maps. The city archive also has online. You could see all the buildings that were photographed in 1940.

So that gives you, uh, you know, Uh, even closer time period to see what the building looked like, uh, back back at that time. So, yeah, I, I, I, it's, I think visualizing the places is important. You think that the Italian squad helped Italians move from being a immigrant marginalized group and to really the mainstream?

I do 1st of all, just by being, uh, sort of heroes to the public, you know, hero cops. I think that we've seen that with succeeding generations of [00:42:00] immigrants and minority groups to that that that that plays a role. Um, I think they. Eventually, the Italian community, you know, becomes very much a part of the police department to the point where you get to the 1960s, and they were just as opposed as the Irish to, uh, say, creating a civilian oversight board, you know, uh, that was a big 1 of the big issues in the 60s.

And, and, you know, play a major role in the police and fire department to similar situation. Um, so they do play that role. I, I think they, they help make Italians a little more trusting in the, in the police department that they can never overcome when they would make a big case. That only seemed to tell the public more that Italians were bad people because here this big headline.

So, uh, uh, and and so I can't say if they won that battle on their own, but eventually, uh, this is actually kind of how the Italians and [00:43:00] Irish came together is the theme of the previous book. I did, uh. And some of it does have to do with people in the public eye like Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra, and I think the Italian squad cops are, you know, in there, uh, also in their way.

You get to 19, LaGuardia's last mayoral campaign in the 40s, uh, he, he, he goes against Paul O'Dwyer, who, uh, no, William O'Dwyer, who was, um, Irish born, uh, and defeats him, but more Italians voted for O'Dwyer than for LaGuardia. So, you start to see the lines getting blurred, and after World War II, the two groups start to intermarry in a big way.

Um, so, yeah, I think they contributed to that, but, but it was a fight that they couldn't win on their own. I wonder, you, this is such a, uh, personality and character driven, uh, non fiction book. If the, of all the people [00:44:00] who you profile, and I'm sure you did, I mean, the, so much research and you're trying to get into the minds of these people, if there was one you could meet and have a cup of coffee with, who would you, who really stuck with you?

Well, I really admired Anthony Vakaris, uh, and I knew him a little better than most of the others because He, uh, his family had kept a diary that he had of the undercover trip. He took to Italy. Uh, so, you know, through a diary, you get to know somebody a little more intimately. So I think of all that's a great question.

I hadn't thought of it, but I think, um, that's my, my immediate reaction is I, I would like to meet and interview him. I'm a Brooklynite and he was a Brooklynite. Uh, in fact, I, I sort of discerned that he, he had a very close relationship with the Brooklyn's major newspaper, the Eagle, which. So Tend to say what he thought, whether it was attributed to him or not.

So, um, yeah, I would, I would like to sit down and have a, maybe a coffee or a beer with, with, with [00:45:00] accuracy. Yeah. You think this is a theme that you'll, I mean, not to move past this book, because people should really check it out, but is this, are these themes you want to, you're developing more in future projects of.

I don't have anything on the table right now. I'm supposed to be retired, but I like to do this project at some point. Um, but no, I'll, I'll speak on the book and maybe try and develop something, something cinematic from it. And, uh, but, uh, I don't think I'm gonna, uh, do another 1. I'm, I'm, I'm half Italian. My mother's parents were both from, uh, Calabria and Basilicata, and I've explored that in two books.

So my, my father, uh, late father was a, a German Jewish refugee from Hitler. So a number of people have said to me, well, what about the Jewish side? So, so I have to, I have to think maybe of, uh, of looking there too, for, uh, for, uh, uh, a story. We'll see. Yeah, there's definitely a story there. And I think that this is a, This would be a [00:46:00] great project for a movie if somebody's out there looking to produce a movie.

I think that this could be a really great movie. Well, thanks. I hope you're right. I've been, my son, you know, is a writer, screenwriter and television writer. And so we've been working together on putting together something. So hopefully, you never know. Well, I want to thank you so much for coming on the show.

Uh, if people want to hear more or learn more about this, they should definitely check out your book on The Italian Squad, The True Story of the Immigrant Cops Who Fought the Rise of the Mafia by Paul Moses. Thank you so much for coming on, Paul. Well, thanks so much, Stephen. It was really enjoyable chat. I really appreciate it.

You've been listening to Organized Crime and Punishment, a history and crime podcast. To learn more about what you heard today, find links to social media, and how to support the show, go [00:47:00] to our website, A to Z HistoryPage. com. Become a friend of ours by sending us an email to crime at a to z history page dot com.

All of this and more can be found in the show notes. We'll see yous next time on Organized Crime and Punishment. Forget about it.

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