By Mike La Sorte, Professor Emeritus
Joe Bonanno, head of the Mafia Commission in the U.S., said of the upcoming Mafia Conclave, on November 14, 1957, at Joe Barbara’s farm, the so-called Big Barbecue, in the village of Apalachin, NY, six miles west of Endicott: “Men of my world were in a tizzy over the upcoming convention in Apalachin. All the people that mattered from the whole country had been invited. Everybody was talking about the boys meeting in Apalachin.”
Joe and Bonanno were from Castellammare, Sicily. They grew up together. Many Castellammarese immigrated to Endicott to work in the shoe factories. Joe built a successful bottling and distribution business in the Union District of Endicott (two blocks from my house). He had a fleet of trucks that supplied businesses in that part of New York State. The sensational worldwide publicity that was created when the NYS Police raided the mob meeting bore directly on Barbara. He lost his business and with his already weakened heart, it was only a matter of time before he succumbed (8-9-1905 to 6-17-1959).The beer and soft drink distributorship was sold (1-6-1962) for $128,500. He left an estate worth $350,566 (4-23-1962), and his eldest son Joe Jr. received his life insurance payment of $76,310. The family’s elaborate grave plot is located at the Calvary Saint Patrick Cemetery in Johnson City, NY. The marker is a large dark cross, white marble figure, located at the northern most plot in Section 14; hard to miss.
Barbara left Sicily in 1921 with his older brother, Charlie, a sober, old-world Sicilian whose personality and looks were Joe’s polar opposites. He was the general manager; Guy Pasquale, from Binghamton, was the floor boss when I worked in the warehouse in the late 1940s, loading and unloading trucks, and making deliveries. The family moved to Detroit after Joe’s death; Joey was invited to join the local mob. The next generation of Barbaras settled in San Diego. After Joey did prison time he was “retired” and died in Florida in January/February 2009. Joe’s flamboyant daughter was engaged to Joseph Monachino, a lawyer, who thought it best to ask for the return of the ring.
The aftereffects of the mob conclave were immediately felt. The FBI, under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover, up to that point did not hold to the theory that Italian mobsters represented a national menace. Such crime was considered a local problem. After November of 1977 everybody jumped on the bandwagon; the Italian mob had their fingers in every pie; ambitious politicians saw Sicilians peeking out of every bush, seeking political gain. Other segments of organized crime were pretty much ignored. Barbara’s story was that the local State cops were corrupt. He said that he had been paying off the head trooper, Sergeant Edgar Croswell, for years. Croswell was getting increasingly greedy; he wanted “more and more money,” so Joe in disgust cut him off. Croswell got his revenge by stalking Barbara’s every move. There is every indication that parts of the story Croswell told, and has been taken as the gospel truth, were much less than that. In addition, there was exaggeration and fantasy such as the mobsters in full panic escaping through the woods, scattering money and such in their wake. The local reporter who by his own account allegedly sat at Croswell’s side when he questioned the attendants is not to be believed. Cinematic stereotypes of “gangster” fueled imaginative tales and unrealistic conclusions. The authorities went so far as to have the infamous Charles “Lucky” Luciano, the mob lord and pimp in NYC, who had been deported to Italy in the late 1930s, questioned by the Italian police. What did he know and when did he know it? He replied: “Until I read about that trash in the newspapers, I never heard of Apalachin. I still don’t know where it is—and I don’t care. I’m clean. I even pay my income tax. They got nothing on me and never will have!”
BARBARA’S EARLY CAREER
Giuseppe Mario Barbara went from New York City to northeastern Pennsylvania, where as a young hoodlum and strong-arm man, he made his bones with an Italian mob that was operating in the coalfields in the towns of Pittston, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. The Northeast Family was involved in the traditional rackets like gambling, loansharking, extortion, prostitution, and drug and labor racketeering. Santo Volpe was the boss from 1908 to 1933, followed by John Sciandra. By 1940, Joe had risen in the mob hierarchy, becoming an underboss. He conspired to succeed Sciandra in 1940, taking over his post, possibly through murder. Coming to the attention of law enforcement, he wisely pulled up stakes, polished his hoodlum persona and became a regular, church-giving citizen in Endicott, NY.
On Feb., 1933, he was arrested in Scranton, PA., on the charge of suspicion of murder. Two men were walking down the street when shots were fired from a speeding car. Barbara and Nick Ross were identified as the shooters, one dead, one wounded. The latter fingered Joe and Ross, but later recanted and the two men were released. Barbara had been operating an illegal still in the woods nearby Cresco, Monroe Count, PA. Most probably the problem among the men was that the two on the sidewalk had discovered Joe’s still and had planned to take it over. Once in Endicott he kept a low profile but could not shake off his deviant ways. He paid his workers a wage below the minimum and got away with it. When out acting the salesman he had the tendency to revert to his previous persona and pushed around a few bar owners who were reluctant to take a bigger beverage order than they wanted, as well as overloading his delivery trucks. When one overload was discovered at a weighing station the State Police took off a number of cases of beer and let our driver continue on his way. (Gosh, everyone wondered what happened to that beer.) On June 13, 1940, he was convicted of the illegal acquisition of 300,000 pounds of sugar and was fined. From my observations, if there was a law to be stretched he found a way. Joe was a handsome man and sharply dressed. His summer attire included a white suit. His temperament ranged widely from the smiling salesman (Drinks for the boys at the bar!) and gracious host to frothing anger while speaking on the phone in his Sicilian dialect. He once fired a very good salesman (Hollywood handsome) who took more orders than he did. No one got over Joe the Barber, with the exception of his gorgeous wife.
JOE’S ELDEST SON, JOEY THE ELDER
After Joe’s death the Detroit mob family took the Barbaras to its bosom. Joey married the mob, taking into holy matrimony the daughter of Peter Vitale. The brothers Peter and Paul were professional gamblers and experienced racketeers, who with Joey founded the Detroit Tri-County Sanitation Co., a subsidiary of a mob-controlled outfit in New York City. In 1962, the three formed the Tri-County Leasing Co. that provided motorized equipment for the sanitation firm. The idea was to move into the trash business, which was very competitive, and to push out the other firms. They purchased upscale trash trucks that hauled twice as much volume and had modern hydraulic units. The drivers hired were not members of the Detroit Teamsters and would settle for $40 weekly.
Bribery of officials was part of doing business. In 1963, the other firms were indicted for defrauding the city of legal dumping fees at the city incinerators. The garbage people bribed the public works employees to cheat on weight balance of rubbish dumped. All the defendants pleaded guilty on 4 April 1963. Joey’s outfit also paid bribes. The recipients of the cash were not willing to testify against the Detroit mob out of fear of retaliation. Joey owned his own incinerator. Another, in a suburb, was owned by Licavoli, a known henchman. One fascinating note: When Jimmy Hoff, who was president of the Teamsters, close to organized crime, and a well-known tough guy, was kidnapped and most probably murdered, there was a nation-wide search for his remains. It was rumored that his corpse was burned in Joey’s incinerator. The FBI sifted through the ashes and found no evidence of human remains.
MOB CAREER CUT SHORT BY PRISON
People v Joseph Barbara, Jr. Decided April 29, 1970. Leave to appeal denied July 16, 1970.
Excerpts from the proceedings: Joseph Barbara Jr. was charged with the extortion of Mrs. Peter (Delores) Lazaros. The matter was submitted to a jury on August 12, 1969; defendant was sentenced to serve 7 to 20 years in prison. During the course of the trial, Mrs. Lazaros testified that Joseph Barbara, Jr., came to her home while her husband was in prison and, through the use of threats upon the lives of members of her family, was successful in efforts to rape and extort money from her. It was alleged that the defendant informed Mrs. Lazaros that if she did not cooperate, he would have her husband killed in prison. Complainant charged that similar threats were made on her son’s life. The complainant feared for her husband’s life and informed no one of these events until some six months later when her husband returned from prison. Her husband, Peter Lazaros, was a close friend of Barbara. Mrs. Lazaros testified that while her husband was in prison, Barbara came to her home on several occasions and, by threatening her life of her husband and their infant son, succeeded in raping her and extorting money from her. Upon the release of her husband from prison, she told him of the incidents and together they informed the authorities, resulting in Barbara’s indictment, trial and conviction. Both Barbara and Lazaros had previously been widely publicized in the local press as members of the Mafia.
Was Joey guilty as charged? Some saw it as a forgone conclusion. After his release from prison, Joey’s association with organized crime was severed, and he was retired having achieving the distinction of Mobster Emeritus.
[For more on the Apalachin story, go to ”Americanmafia.com” to the article, “The Mob on the Nob” by Mike La Sorte, December 2003.]
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