Friday, January 29, 2010

January 28,1910-Black Hand Trial Begins in New York City

Before the term "Mafia" became synonymous with organized crime in America, the secret society known as The Black Hand was the organization to which crime reporters attributed any form of Italian organized crime. The Black Hand flourished in Sicily in the late 19th cent., and in the United States it was especially active in New York City at the beginning of the 20th century. It is estimated that at one time 90% of New York City's Italian population was blackmailed by letters threatening death and marked with a black hand. Famous incidents associated with the Black Hand include the murder (1890) in New Orleans of chief of police Daniel Hennessy and the shooting (1909), in Palermo, Italy, of Lt. Joseph Petrosino of the New York City police.

Perhaps New York’s most influential Mafioso at the beginning of the 20th century was Ignazio Saietta, redundantly known as Lupo the Wolf, who had emigrated after murdering a man in his hometown. Lupo and his partner, Giuseppe Morello ran a "murder factory" in a stable on E. 108th St near 1st Avenue. Victims here were reputedly hung on meat hooks or burned in furnaces. This stable was the scene of as many sixty murders.

The Morello gang coupled illegal activities such as extortion, blackmail, protection and murder for hire with legitimate businesses like restaurants, grocery stores , shoe repair businesses, barbershops and real estate investing. They later hooked up with Five Points gang leader Paul Kelly (born Paolo Antonio Vaccarelli) and started an endeavour whereby they strong armed people into selling their property at a cheap price.

All of these activities were facilitated by the protection of Tammany Hall who, in the first decade of the twentieth century, protected criminal activities through their control of the police department and the a large portion of the legislative branches of government. For a price Tammany leaders such as Big Tim Sullivan made sure that criminals such as Morello and Lupo were virtually immune from criminal laws.

Lupo and Morello continued to expand both their legitimate and illegitimate businesses until the fall of 1907 when a financial crisis hit Wall Street. The crisis was triggered by the failed attempt in October 1907 to corner the market on stock of the United Copper Company. When this bid failed, banks that had lent money to the cornering scheme suffered runs that later spread to affiliated banks and trusts, leading a week later to the downfall of the Knickerbocker Trust Company—New York City's third-largest trust. The collapse of the Knickerbocker spread fear throughout the city's trusts as regional banks withdrew reserves from New York City banks. Panic extended across the nation as vast numbers of people withdrew deposits from their regional banks.

Lupo and Morello incurred heavy losses due to the panic. Their conclusion was to get more heavily into a business that before now they had merely dabbled in-counterfeiting. Until 1907 they had smuggled counterfeit bills into the States from Salerno but now they decide to set up their own printing plant in the Catskills.

This proved to be a major mis-calculation on their part because while the Tammany machine could protect them from crimes in New York, counterfeiting was a federal crime.

In 1865 Abraham Lincoln had allowed for the Creation of the United States Secret Service for the express purpose of investigating counterfeiting. At the time, Counterfeit money made up one-third of the nations' currency. The Secret Service was dead serious about going after counterfeiters and they were damn good at it. So when Lupo and Morello decided to get into it in a big way they were playing with fire.

They kidnapped an Italian pressman named Comito to the Catskill pant to produce the bills, but when he could not produce the proper colour he was allowed to return to New York to procure the proper inks. There, the Feds arrested him and he broke down completely ratting out the Morello gang. The two principals and six other gang member were rounded up.

On January 28, 1910 the trial of Joe Morello, Ignazio Saietta and six co-conspirators began in a federal courtroom in New York City. When the printer, Comito, was called to testify he was given the Mafia sign of death by one of the defendants. He testified that he had personally printed about $46,000 in phony bills.

The judge received Black Hand death threats in the mail but he ignored them and all of the defendants were found guilty. Morello and Lupo were sentenced to thirty years and the two began writhing and wailing on the floor of the courtroom. Morello, it is said, let out a scream that was described as the most chilling sound that had been heard in the courtroom since a visitor had gotten mangled in an elevator.

Lupo was paroled in 1920. Morello was released in 1928 and two years later he was assassinated.

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