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RIP: Joe Todaro, reputed mob boss and noted businessman

By Mike Hudson

The last of the old timers? Joe Todaro (Top) was reputed to be a member of the Mafia. His alleged confederates included (Second from top) Stephano Magaddino and (Third from top to above) Fat Tony Salerno, Sam Pieri and Sonny Nicoletti.

The passing of Joe Todaro last week at the age of 89 -- coming as it did on the heels of the September 3 death of his sometime ally and sometime rival Benjamin “Sonny” Nicoletti -- effectively closes the book on what law enforcement authorities refer to as the Magaddino Crime Family.

Known less formally as “The Arm,” the Magaddino organization has been the subject of intense interest on the part of the New York State Police, the FBI, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other police organizations for decades.

According to the FBI, Todaro was Buffalo’s last official don, living his last days out in semi-retirement and leaving the day-to-day operation of the criminal enterprise to others. This was never proven. In fact, Todaro was never convicted of any crime.

What Todaro proved himself was that he was a devoted family man who doted on his children and grandchildren, that he was a savvy businessman who built a single small pizza stand into a national business with revenues of around $30 million a year and that he was a philanthropist who cared about Western New York enough to feed the hungry and provide employment for the disadvantaged of the Buffalo community.

He was politically active, and counted among his friends former Niagara Falls Congressman John LaFalce, former Buffalo Mayor Tony Masiello and former Erie County Executive Joel Giambra. When Bill and Hillary Clinton and Al and Tipper Gore made a presidential visit to Buffalo in 1999, they left town on Air Force One laden with boxes of Todaro’s La Nova Pizza and bags of the restaurant’s legendary hot wings.

"Being in political life for 25 years, I'm very much accustomed to rumors and innuendos," Giambra said. "There were many attempts by law enforcement to try and prove the Todaro family was involved in something other than pizza, and as far as I know they were not very successful."

Still, what people were talking about this week were those allegations, rumors, and innuendo.

Todaro managed to stay largely under the radar until the night of May 8, 1967, when the FBI and State Police Organized Crime Task Force members raided Panaro’s Snowball Lounge. Inside the bar – which was owned by Todaro cousin Bobby Panaro – the flatfeet found a veritable “Who’s Who?” of alleged Buffalo crime family members that included Todaro, Freddie Randaccio, Danny Sansanese, Jimmy LaDuca, Joe Fino, Sam Pieri, Pat Natarelli, Joe DiCarlo, Roy Carlisi, Sam Frangiamore and others.

Although no crime had been committed or even alleged, the men were loaded into Paddy wagons and taken downtown for questioning. The newspaper hacks ate it up and ran with stories calling the gathering “Little Apalachin,” referring to the disastrous Mafia meeting in Apalachin, N.Y., a decade earlier.

The reality was more prosaic. The men were actually gathered for a stag party thrown for a young friend who was getting married.

The incident and resulting publicity was enough for the state Liquor Control Board to lift Bobby Panaro’s license, and the Snowball Lounge was closed. Outraged, Todaro filed a lawsuit against the Buffalo FBI office alleging discrimination against Italian Americans in connection with the incident.

It was around that time that law enforcement and the newspapers hung the name “Lead Pipe Joe” on Todaro, a name by which he was never known in the underworld, where his fondness for a fine stogie earned him the street nickname of “Cigars.” Often, in deference to the fact that the FBI spends quite a bit of the taxpayers’ money on listening devices, the guys would refer to Todaro without saying anything at all, simply by making the hand to mouth gesture immortalized by Groucho Marx indicating a cigar being smoked.

The late 1960s were tough years for the Magaddino organization. Don Stefano was in failing health, his mind was starting to feel the effects of Alzheimer’s and he and his son Peter were actually arrested – on Nov. 26, 1968 – on federal racketeering charges.
Two factions formed, each hoping to seize control once the Old Man died or was otherwise forced to relinquish control. One of these represented the old guard, and was headed up by Sam Pieri and Sam Frangiamore, while the other was made up of Young Turks led by Joe Fino and Danny Sansanese.

According to the FBI, Todaro sided with the Turks.

Following Magaddino’s death in 1974, the crime family he founded was weakened by a decade of internal strife and bloodletting. Law enforcement took full advantage. John Cammilleri was murdered, Sam Pieri went to prison, Joe Fino’s son Ron turned out to be a government informant and other top guys were in jail or scattered to the four winds.

In October 1984, Joe Pieri and Peanuts Tronolone, a former Buffalo resident who became a wheel in the Cleveland crime family, traveled to New York for a sitdown with Fat Tony Salerno about the leadership problems in Western New York. They met at Salerno’s Palma Boys Social Club in Harlem, which the FBI had bugged.

Pieri and Tronolone opposed Todaro and argued that Pieri himself should be made boss. Fat Tony played along.
"The Commission wants it taken care of, let the Commission decide." Salerno thundered. "Tell him it's the Commission from New York, tell him he's dealing with the big boys now!"

Pieri and Tronolone agreed, and were surprised as hell a few weeks later when the Commission chose Todaro as boss.
Anyway, that’s the story the FBI tells. Who knows? Maybe it’s true. It doesn’t seem to matter much today one way or the other.

The Niagara Falls Reporter offers our deepest condolences to Joe’s wife of 69 years, Josephine, his son Joe Jr. and daughters Carol Todaro and Linda Gerace. The Todaro family would like to express their sincere gratitude to the medical staffs at ECMC and Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital for the exceptional care and compassion they extended to Joseph during his hospital stays.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in Joe's name may be made to the Children's Hospital of Buffalo or the Roswell Park Cancer Institute Pediatric Unit.



Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Dec 31 , 2012