#19: The Cerrito Crime Family (Part One)


In this episode, we cover the Cerrito Crime Family of the American Cosa Nostra who operated in and around San Jose, California, and who were a significant entity controlling organized crime in the San Jose area for many decades beginning around the 1940’s and were in existence until at least the 1990’s or early 2000’s.

My research will show that this particular LCN family was likely the most risk-averse and least-aggressive family of all 20+ families across the country during the Mafia's hey-dey, but I'll let you decide.

We discuss:

  • Their official founding in the 1940's
  • The first alleged Boss, Onofrio Sciortino
  • The ascension of the family's namesake, Joseph X. Cerrito
  • Cerrito's history as a used car salesman
  • Cerrito's presence in 1957 at Apalachin
  • Cerrito's ascension to Boss in 1959
  • Drama within the Cerrito family in the 1960's
  • A failed plot to murder a Nevada casino operator
  • The lack of respect nationally
  • The LIFE Magazine lawsuit and national implications
  • Joe Cerrito's waning years and death in 1978

Included prominently in this article are the family's long-time Underboss, Emanuel “Manny” Figlia, Angelo Marino, Alex Camarata, Pete Misuraca, as well as many other colorful characters and cameos from important Cosa Nostra figures throughout the country.

Episode Transcript

Episode Teaser

“Mr. Kerley stated that [redacted] had often spoken about Cerrito to him. [Redacted] had considerable difficulty with Cerrito on deals and Mr. Kerley stated that he had heard [redacted] refer to Cerrito as being ‘wired in with the Mafia.’ This information from [redacted] according to Kerley was more in a spirit of jest. He doubted if [redacted] had any definite information concerning this, but was probably referring to Cerrito because of his appearance and manners. Mr. Kerley stated that Cerrito’s methods of doing business were a little different from those engaged in by most automobile dealers who are given at times to sharp practices, but none are ever as extreme in their operation as is Cerrito.”

Episode Intro

Hello everybody and welcome back to another episode of The Member’s Only Podcast. I am your host Jacob Stoops, and I’m a mob enthusiast and historian.

In today’s episode, I will finally deliver on the teaser from the last several episodes. That teaser of course was that we’d be covering one of the smaller and lesser-known Cosa Nostra families within the United States, the Cerrito Family.

The Cerrito family, operating in and around San Jose, California, was a significant entity controlling organized crime in the San Jose area for many decades beginning around the 1940’s and were in existence until at least the 1990’s or early 2000’s.

This group, which gets almost no publicity in Mafia circles and is often thought of as a footnote, has a history that ties in with a handful of the biggest events and players in Cosa Nostra history. While I can’t say that they were nearly as powerful as any other families around the country, I can certify that they have an interesting story to tell and I’ve dug up details including some previously unseen photos that (at least based on my research) I promise you won’t find anywhere else.

But before we get into the Cerrito’s, I’d like to remind you to hit that subscribe button and turn on the bell to get notifications. If you’re already a subscriber, please share the show to help my small but mighty Mafia channel grow! If you’re listening to the audio only version, please leave a review and let me know what you think!

Alright, I’ve kept you waiting long enough. On to the episode—The Cerrito Family of San Jose!

The Founding of the Cerrito's

Let’s start with this, and I think you’ll find it fitting.

When I was starting the research for this episode and thinking about the Cerrito’s, I really kept coming back to an important scene within the final season of Boardwalk Empire.

The scene, which I’m about to show you, is a conversation between Charles “Lucky” Luciano, played by the great Vincent Piazza, and Alphonse “Scarface” Capone, played by none other than Stephen Graham (great actors by the way!).

Luciano is explaining the changes he plans to make as well as the expansion of the nationwide crime syndicate under a single governing body and common set of rules across the entire country.

Luciano: “Change is coming. Maybe ya heard?”

Al Capone: “Heard ya got a new Boss.” (Capone laughs)

Luciano: “What’d you want me to say?!?”

Al Capone: “Surprise me.”

Luciano: “There’s better ways to do things.”

Al Capone: “Like how?!?”

Luciano: “Run it like a business.”

(Capone & crew laugh)

Al Capone: “I already got the biggest game going!”

Luciano: “It’s not all about you. It’s about all of us. Together.”

Al Capone: “Who’s us?!?”

Luciano: “Italians.”

Al Capone: “I don’t know no Italians. Neapolitans, Calabrese…what are you again?!?”

Luciano: “Not important.”

Al Capone: “Cause that’s what your new Boss wants. All pals. His hand in my pocket!”

Luciano: “Go anywhere in the country, New York, K.C. Boston, Atlantic City. Same understanding. Same rules. Nobody worries. Everybody benefits. It’s not less, it’s more.”

Ralph Capone: “Atlantic City?”

Luciano: “Or Albuquerque.”

And this isn’t to diminish any family including the Cerrito’s but the scene emphasizes the point of how effective Luciano’s real-life grand plan was when it came to setting the same basic set of rules and structures in place across the country.

The plan was pure genius in its simplicity, easy to understand, easy to follow, and not only did almost 30 cities adopt this Mafia framework at its peak, but it connected the Mafia families, who’d previously been what can be best described as localized gangs and/or Mafia clans, like never before.

So it became possible for Italian organized crime groups in cities both big and small to coalesce into the Cosa Nostra structure, and because of the connections across the country, largely spurned on through Prohibition, the Mafia across the entire country was almost do what you see in businesses which is churn out franchises – even all the way in San Jose, California.

Now I think we can all agree that some cities were like the major leagues while others were more like AAA or AA franchises, but you get the point.

There likely would have still been gangs and Italian organizations in places like San Diego, but you get the point? Luciano’s structure and the adoption of the rules and customs across the country essentially meant that for a long time it was truly more, not less.

Okay, now that I’m off of my soapbox, let’s talk about how the Cerrito’s started.

To give a little background on how the Italian community of San Jose developed, I’m going to share some information from the California Italian American Project and the Sons of Sicily. The town of San Jose was founded by Spaniards in 1777, and its official name in Alta, California was El Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe. San Jose was the state capital from 1849-1851. Upon California’s statehood in 1850, the population of San Jose was a mere 3,500, but by 2010, San Jose’s population was 1,006,892 making it the third largest city in the state.

San Jose is located in Santa Clara County. Once known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight for its orchards and ranches, today San Jose is better known as Silicon Valley because of the centrality of the technology industry.

San Jose, California has always been the original home to many Italian immigrants since the early 1900’s. Italian immigrants came to the valley and worked primarily in the orchards and canneries. Italians emigrated to San Jose during three main waves of immigration.

The first wave dates from the Gold Rush to 1924 with the majority of Italians arriving between 1880-1920. The second wave occurred from the late 1930s-1965. The third wave dates from 1965 to today.

Italian immigrants to San Jose came from many Italian regions, but a majority of them arrived from cities, towns, and villages in southern Italy and Sicily such as Cosenza (Calabria), Foggia (Puglia), Napoli (Campania), Tagliacozzo (Abruzzo), Messina (Sicily), and Termini Imerese (Palermo).

Now getting back to the Mafia side of things, it’s worth noting that the San Jose family didn’t seem to exist when the original Commission was set in place in 1931 by Luciano and his confederates.

Though I could not locate any reports which suggested exactly how the San Jose organization was spun up, you will see in many reports quite a close relationship between San Jose and the San Francisco LCN family (due to proximity) as well as the Los Angeles family.

So here’s my thoughts on the potential origins of the San Jose family:

One possibility is that San Jose was originally the satellite organization for San Francisco before more or less becoming a family in its own right. What I mean is that San Francisco saw the potential opportunities of a growing city nearby and sent in some of their members to “colonize” the area so to speak for the Mafia.

The other plausible theory, and I don’t know which is more likely, would be that a large Italian contingent and even Sicilian Mafia had already taken root in San Jose. And then through the natural San Francisco connections, combined with probable East Coast connections, as well as the national effort to organize and assimilate into one large functioning group with regional satellites, it just made sense to formally establish a family in that city.

Now, neither theory is substantiated, but it’s my opinion based upon research, and I think some of the information will tend to lean that way. If you have information or thoughts, send them my way in the comments or via email.

As with most episodes where I’m covering an entire family, I plan to stick to the high-end members and the broad details, but of course there will be the usual amount of depth.

Now, the thing I kept coming back to during the episode was this: If you’re going to be a Mafia family, why not do Mafia-like things? Otherwise, what is the point right? It’s like being a pirate but not seeking treasure, swash-buckling, or flying the skull and crossbones. And by the time I’m through, I promise that statement will make more sense.

The First Boss: Onofrio Sciortino (1940-1959)

Okay, I’m just going to say this. There were not many records of the city’s alleged first Cosa Nostra boss, Onofrio Sciortino. He was a very, very hard man to pin down.

Not only that, but there was nothing, and I mean nothing, from a documentation standpoint really explaining the origins of the family, which is why I was left to make an educated guess.

That being said, it’s not as if this man didn’t exist as I did find Sciortino listed in FBI several reports related to the Mafia in the area, so it’s clear that he had associations with LCN members. However, while I won’t have your typical origin story here, many sources do claim that Onofrio Sciortino was essentially the first major leader of the San Jose family.

From the sources I was able to find, Sciortino appears to have been born on April 17, 1891, and according to records from the Statue of Liberty Heritage website, a teenage Sciortino appears to have emigrated from Bolognetta, Palermo, Italy in 1907 aboard the ship, Luisiana. The record lists him as a female, but the age checks out from other records that I found, so I believe this was surely him.

The first instance that I observed Sciortino show up in the local papers was due to a rather sensational hit on a policeman reported by an Italian newspaper called the La Voce Del Popolo out of San Francisco, California on January 7, 1929.

The article itself was in Italian, but I’ve taken the liberty of loosely translating it with the assist from Google translate:


Belleville, N.J., 7.—In the Silver Lake section there was a self-murder of Canio Bochichio, who was found killed over a chair, in his home at no. 167 Franklin Street.

The sad discovery was made by the dead man’s son-in-law who hurried to call the police.

The unfortunate man had a revolver ball in his chest. At the same time, Onofrio Sciortino, of the n. 161 Franklin Street, a suspected perpetrator of the homicide, was taken to Mountainside Hospital with a ball in his leg. To the doctors, who questioned him, he said he had been wounded by a black man who had attempted to rob him.

After a policeman had been placed to guard Sciortino, a son of the dead man, Canio Jr., arrived at the hospital. He was immediately arrested under accusation of carrying a treacherous weapon, without permission, and was handed over to the Gien Ridge police.”

My research trail would go cold on that until I found Sciortino within Santa Clara census records from the year 1940 which indicated that at the age of 49 he was living in a house together with his sister who was the head of the house and a few other family members. He had listed his occupation as a Retail Baker. Occupations of alleged mobsters always make me laugh, but this establishes that Sciortino was definitely living in the area at the time.

Now here’s the thing, because there is so little information around Sciortino, I am forced to do the thing that I don’t normally do and source much of the information on Sciortino from Wikipedia for the sake of sort of rounding out the story, so take that for what you will and let me have it in the comments, though I think you’ll find the rest of the episode interesting and fact-oriented as always.

It’s alleged that around the time of this census in the early part of the 1940’s, Sciortino would take control of the San Jose underworld, thus establishing the family officially, and would become the city’s first official Cosa Nostra Boss.

Now, I just want to say that the person I found noted by local papers to be the reported head of the San Jose Mafia in 1935 was a man named Joe Vicari who at the time was in trouble with a counterfeiting case and sentenced to a one year term in county jail. However, after those references in 1935, there wasn’t really any other significant reference to Joe Vicari, so I’m going to stick with Sciortino as the first official boss.

Interestingly, there are some sources online that would suggest that Sciortino would name Joseph Cerrito (who will be our focus for the majority of this episode) as his Underboss, but that was not anything that I could validate. That said, I did see one report suggesting that they were close friends, so I guess it’s plausible.

For official purposes, one report indicated that Sciortino may have been a fruit buyer for a man named Antonio Bianco out of New York City in the past but that by the 1940’s was retired from the fruit buying business.

Similar to other cities, the rackets that Onofrio pushed the family into were fairly traditional: gambling, loansharking, counterfeiting, shylocking, prostitution, and of course extortion.

To offer a little color around the type of man Sciortino was, it’s rumored that he was a gambling addict who thought nothing of losing upwards of a million dollars per day. He’d use his cut of the family’s profits to continue to support his habit, diving the family deeper into the rackets to make up for his losses.

In January of 1959 according to the Los Angeles Mirror, Sciortino (who was noted as being from San Francisco) was questioned by a federal grand jury investigating the local underworld and the International Mafia. His name is noted along with other compatriots including one Joseph “Joe Bananas” Bonnano, who will crop up several times in this episode. Now aside from solidifying Sciortino’s ties within the underworld, this may actually validate my theory about San Jose originally being a satellite of the San Francisco LCN.

Allegedly, Onofrio would oversee the family from its founding in the early 1940’s until his death from a heart attack on September 10, 1959 at the age of 68.

It’s at this point that the family’s eventual namesake, a man named Joseph Cerrito, would take over the crime family. Cerrito would go on to lead the family for the next 19 years.

The Namesake: Joseph X. Cerrito (1959-1978)

To the public, Cerrito was primarily known as the owner of three major car dealerships in the San Jose area—two in San Jose and one in Los Gatos. He was an accomplished businessman who was respected in the local community.

For many years, he would reside at 421 San Jose Avenue in Los Gatos, California, where he would own and operate a Lincoln-Mercury and the El Gato Edsel Automobile Sales Company.

However, privately he was also a long-time Cosa Nostra member who would ascend to the position of boss who had many contacts all over the country, with records even showing that he’d contacted and met directly with New York boss Joe Profaci (who was reputed to be his distant relative) and his underboss Joe Magliocco directly from his dealership.

Joseph Xavier Cerrito was born in the mafia stronghold of Palermo, Sicily. His parents were Stefano and Paola Cerrito, and he had three brothers (Joseph, Salvatore and Thomas) and one sister (Mary, who would eventually marry the man who would become a major Cerrito ally later in life). According to records I located, Cerrito would emigrate to the United States in the 1920’s, like many Italians settling first in the borough of Brooklyn in New York City.

And I will say, if you do a quick Google search, you will not find much information on Joseph Cerrito’s background prior to landing out in San Jose. But don’t worry, I’ve got your back!

According to information Cerrito himself gave as part of an FBI interview after an event we’ll discuss here in just a little bit, he himself provided even more context about his background:

“Subject was born 1/25/11 at Villa Abate, Palermo, Italy. He was brought to the U.S. by his parents on 12/1/20. He has derivative U.S. citizenship. Subject is married and with his wife and four children resides at 421 San Jose Avenue, Los Gatos, California. The Subject owns and operates the Joseph Cerrito, Lincoln-Mercury Sales Agency, and that property thereto at 614 North Santa Cruz Avenue, Los Gatos, and the San Jose Imports Company, 1957 North San Carlos, San Jose. He reportedly graduated from high school in New York City and claims to have attended college in Alabama. His mother and two brothers and a sister reside in the San Jose area. The Subject suffered a slight heart attack in 1953. He has no reported criminal record and is not known by local law enforcement. His indicated associates include several persons identified as top hoodlums in various parts of the U.S. These include such figures as Joe Profaci, Joseph Magliocco of New York, Russell Bufalino of Philadelphia, Joe Civello of Dallas, Texas, and Frank Di Simone of Los Angeles, all of whom are top hoodlums and attended the Apalachin meeting. He is also reported to have been a friend of the exiled Sebastiani Nani, a convicted narcotics peddler, and others. He is not known to be engaged in any current criminal activities. Description set forth.”

I was also able to locate an FBI report that indicates agents based in the San Francisco field office interviewed a man named Joseph DiMaggio (not the baseball player), who would later become the general manager of Cerrito’s automotive dealership in Los Gatos, California. DiMaggio would provide a lot of context around Cerrito and also knew a lot of the players in the San Jose Mafia. This interview would provide more background context on how Joe Cerrito eventually made it out to San Jose.

“Joseph Di Maggio, 16020 Winterbrook Road, Los Gatos, California, general manager of the Joseph Cerrito Lincoln-Mercury Sales, 614 North Santa Cruz Avenue, Los Gatos, was interviewed on January 22, 1959, by Special Agents C. Darwin Marron and Charles J. Prelsnik. At that time he stated that he had known Joseph Cerrito since approximately 1936. Cerrito’s parents, he advised, lived about three doors down the street from him on 84th Street in New York, and he had known them very well. Cerrito’s father, Stefano Cerrito, ran a neighborhood meat market and Joe, after having tried various jobs including photography and selling, worked in the butcher shop with his father. Di Maggio stated that he was practicing law in New York at the time, and had been for 11 years.

In 1938, Di Maggio advised, he ran for U.S. Congress for his district in New York, but was defeated. He stated that he decided to leave New York the following year and discussed his plans with Cerrito’s father whom he induced to go along. Di Maggio stated that they went as far as Houston, Texas., where he and his wife stayed with relatives for about six months. Stefano Cerrito continued on to California. Di Maggio said that he and his family returned to New York for a short while and then went to California. The Cerrito family, he learned, had settled in Sunnyvale, California. Joe, who had recently been married, remained in New York. However, soon thereafter Joe came to California and acquired a butcher shop at 9th and Reed Streets in San Jose. This, he recalled, was in 1941. He said that in spite of the meat shortages at that time, Joe Cerrito was able to make contact with the Sodality Meat Company, later known as the Denver Meat Company. As a result, Joe Cerrito, made a lot of money in the butcher business.

After the war, Cerrito became interested in the used car business and got into it by acquiring a used car lot of a former customer at North Market and Julian Streets in San Jose. Di Maggio stated that he, at the time, had been employed for five years by the California Title Insurance Company in San Jose. Cerrito induced him to go into the used car business on a partnership basis. According to Di Maggio, they operated very successfully during their first few years of business and in 1946 Cerrito made three trips to New York to purchase used cars. They expanded their operations to a lot on South First Street, and after they lost the lease on their first lot they located another on 401 Almaden Avenue. In 1949 when they were operating one lot, they dissolved the partnership.”

To provide more context as to why Cerrito went into the butcher business before the car business, apparently that was a trade he’d learned from his father, so it was what he knew growing up.

Once in California, Cerrito and DiMaggio would continue their friendship, and as I alluded to Cerrito, though he would try the butcher business, a manufacturing business, and the grocery business, would become fairly successful in the automotive business over the course of the next three decades. When the interview changed to insinuations of potential criminality, DiMaggio clammed up, claiming he had no knowledge of Cerrito’s travels to New York in the infamous year of 1957, or of any other reasons to travel to New York, Detroit, or other cities save for visiting relatives, buying cars, or going to automotive conventions.

DiMaggio would go on the state the following regarding Cerrito’s early underworld connections:

“Di Maggio stated that when Cerrito was a youth in New York he was friendly with a number of known hoodlums, but Di Maggio was positive that Joe Cerrito was not engaged in any illegal activities with them.”

In fact, Cerrito wouldn’t crop up in the local papers until the early 1950’s, when you’d see his name connected, funny enough with Mr. Joseph DiMaggio, in a ground-breaking ceremony for his dealership as well as a number of other instances of various advertisements for his dealership and/or related news reports including a house fire at the Cerrito’s home on 421 San Jose Avenue in February of 1953.

Some commentary I was able to find regarding Cerrito’s reputation in the automotive business showed that maybe he might not have been as ethical as he wanted the public at the time to believe:

“Dunn and Bradstreet in a report dated 11/27/57, states that Cerrito’s financial statement on 12/31/56 showed current assets of $104,006, total assets $231,899, and current liabilities $76,605, net worth of $111,115.

A source in the automobile business advises that the volume of business conducted by Cerrito would not justify the salaries used in his personnel without showing a heavy loss. Source reports that Cerrito is a sharp trader, given to unethical practices in his business, appears to be held with suspicion and dislike in the trade. Those interviewed say he keeps to himself, is shrewd, drives a hard bargain, and is an ‘outsider.’ Three sources advised that Cerrito travels a great deal by himself usually to New York.”

The report would go on to say the following regarding Cerrito’s taste in the finer things:

“Cerrito reportedly dresses in tailor-made clothes of the $150 to $200 variety, likes expensive things and goes ‘first class.’ He was reportedly the first owner in this area of a $10,000 Lincoln Continental, manufactured by the Ford Company in 1956.”

Another report, which shared the perspective of a Mr. Kerley with whom Cerrito was in talks to buy the dealership, notated Cerrito’s terse approach to doing business:

“Mr. Kerley stated that [redacted] had often spoken about Cerrito to him. [Redacted] had considerable difficulty with Cerrito on deals and Mr. Kerley stated that he had heard [redacted] refer to Cerrito as being ‘wired in with the Mafia.’ This information from [redacted] according to Kerley was more in a spirit of jest. He doubted if [redacted] had any definite information concerning this, but was probably referring to Cerrito because of his appearance and manners. Mr. Kerley stated that Cerrito’s methods of doing business were a little different from those engaged in by most automobile dealers who are given at times to sharp practices, but none are ever as extreme in their operation as is Cerrito.”

That said, other reports would indicate that despite being sharp within the automotive business, Cerrito had no known unwholesome activities, spent most of his time with older Italians, was a fan of boxing, and a family man.

There was yet another report though that I found (and this is the last one before I move on) which actually made me laugh, not so much at the particulars of his height, weight or other physical characteristics, but at his supposed peculiarities which read:

“Uses large words improperly, wears expensive dark tailor made clothes, speaks fluent Italian and wears a large diamond ring.”

So, if the last few sources don’t paint a picture, I don’t know what will. All of this is to really give you a picture of who Cerrito was by this time. Honestly, he sounds more like your typical suburban Dad than a hardcore mobster.

That being said, Cerrito was clearly a character who knew and was still at that time in contact with some major Cosa Nostra figures from his days in New York as well as out on the West Coast. And like other mobsters, he was a fairly unscrupulous businessman who liked to dress well. These are certainly characteristics that are in fitting with the mob, but by themselves don’t necessarily mean he was destined for the mob.

So, how did he join the Mafia and then rise through the ranks?

Alright, I’m going to be honest yet again. I am good at digging, but I found nothing indicating when Cerrito became a “made” member of Cosa Nostra, though it’s clear by later reports that he had his button.

And since he had no criminal record, there really wasn’t much to go on to tie him into the Mafia until 1957 and one of the most significant events in Mafia history. It’s clear he had several ties to the mob from back home in New York, but for a long time, he was 100% off the radar of law enforcement. In fact, I wouldn’t actually find any records of him in FBI reports until 1958.

That would all change in 1957 though. As I said, Cerrito wouldn’t become nationally known as an LCN member until his attendance in 1957 of the infamous Apalachin conference which would officially out him as a member of the Mafia to the public.

That said, this just goes to show that while the family was small, they—and Cerrito specifically—must have been respected just enough nationally to have gotten an invite. Not only that, but it goes to show how the tentacles of the mob had spread throughout the country right under the public’s noses, the latter I think is more important.

Ultimately, Cerrito’s presence at this meeting would for all intents and purposes become his claim to fame in most Mafia circles, and you’ll understand why later in the episode.

To add some additional color to the Cerrito and Apalachin story, I have it on good authority and was able to loosely corroborate that the man who helped Cerrito make his arrangements to get to the meeting was none other than Russell Bufalino (who incidentally was in charge of all the arrangements).

In fact, I have documentation indicating that Cerrito, along with James “Jimmy the Hat” Lanza (the boss of San Francisco), Joseph Civello (boss of Dallas), Frank DeSimone (boss of Los Angeles), and Simone Scozzari (underboss of Los Angeles) stayed at Room 312 of the Hotel Casey in Scranton before traveling to the meeting, with the bill being footed by Bufalino of course (which of course he’d deny entirely when it was called into question during a deportation hearing).

According to records, Cerrito had traveled from San Francisco to New York and then on to Apalachin with the San Francisco boss, James Lanza. Based on what I observed in my research, there appeared to be fairly close ties between the San Jose and the San Francisco families specifically (likely due to proximity). San Jose was also tied into the Los Angeles family and even Colorado with the Smaldone organization & Pueblo LCN family, not to mention Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and many connections in New York.

Cerrito would testify in front of authorities in August of 1958 and January 1959, and then again for a grand jury in March and June 1959 to answer questions about his presence at the Apalachin Summit as well as some questionable travel funds he’d use to make the trip to New York (they were really trying to follow the money so to speak).

According to FBI reports, Cerrito “profanely referred to his being interviewed concerning his activities and asked to be left alone to pursue his business of selling automobiles” despite being granted immunity from prosecution. So it sounds like they were trying to get him to rat.

At the time of his 1958 interview, it was the observation of agents that he was not antagonistic or belligerent during the interview, but he was evasive and not cooperative. He appeared to be willing to answer any questions concerning his background and associates but would refuse to answer any questions which would reflect upon his associates or relationships with any of the Sicilian hoodlum elements.

In reply to questions relating to the existence of a “Mafia,” Cerrito laughed and labeled as fantastic and fictional the existence of such an organization. Cerrito was questioned by the Agents as to whether he had any information relative to the purpose of the meeting, and of course he denied that he had any information relative to the meeting or even any opinion as to its possible purpose.

Privately and at a later date, informants would suggest that Cerrito had been known to remark that not only did he attend Apalachin, but that he escaped apprehension by jumping a fence and hiding in the weeds, eventually returning to his home by way of New Orleans, Louisiana.

So all in all, in that instance facing that heat, he showed himself to be a stand up guy like all of the other attendees. He would never be arrested or officially charged with a crime.

At the same time the Apalachin blowback was happening, Cerrito’s dealership (Joseph Cerrito Lincoln-Mercury) in around June of 1958 was burglarized for what the papers reported a “considerable sum of money.” Now, this is going to start a theme.

I would find absolutely nothing that spoke to this robbery in FBI reports and to my knowledge there was no reprisal the following to burglary. Given what I know now and what I’m about to share with you, this makes sense. However, if this had happened in another city with another important member of an LCN family, you can bet revenge would have been served swiftly and heads would have been on spikes so to speak. But that did not seem to happen here.

During the latter period of time when he was still facing some scrutiny from Apalachin, Cerrito would allegedly ascend to the position of Boss in 1959 after the death of his predecessor, Onofrio Sciortino. This would make him 48 at the time of his appointment, thus making him relatively young for a Don in LCN.

Now, similar to his “making” date, I really could find no documentation around his rise through the Mafia ranks. I can’t say that the story of him being an Underboss or at least a Capo is true, but the official documentation has him becoming boss right around this time period, so it’s clear that he A) had his button, and B) was in a position prominent enough within the family to be made boss. The only other plausible alternative for Cerrito’s ascension to Boss would be that there was simply nobody else qualified to do the job at that time, but I’ll let you make that determination for yourself.

After becoming Boss, the documentation I was able to locate which was from the mid-1970’s indicated that Cerrito would name a man named Charles Carbone his Underboss and Carbone would stay in place until his death in 1967. The report also stated that Cerrito had two men serving as Consiglieri, Philippo “Phil” Morici (who interestingly enough was the Notary Public in and for the County of Santa Clara of all things) and Stefano “Steve” Zoccoli, and his top Capo (dubbed a Capo de Decina in the report) was a man named Emanuel “Manny” Figlia (who was in fact Cerrito’s brother-in-law with Cerrito serving as “best man” in Figlia’s wedding to Cerrito’s sister, Mary). There are also records showing Angelo Marino and Charles Carbone as Capos. So, clearly this setup was relatively unorthodox on Cerrito’s part with respect to how he aligned his administration. Eventually, Manny Figlia would be promoted to the position of Underboss in 1967. Figlia would be not only just a brother-in-law but a confidant and a really important cog in the wheel of the Cerrito family. Very respected guy within the family and Cerrito’s right hand man.

During the early part of 1961, Cerrito would be observed meeting with some of his family’s top men including Steve Zoccoli, Angelo Marino, Dominick Anzalone, and Charles Carbone at various locations around San Jose. It was noted at the time that the informant, dubbed T-1, was observed meeting with these individuals (all of whom were or would become well-known as members of the San Jose LCN family). As I mentioned, Cerrito was not on the authorities’ radar until after Apalachin, but became a figure of much curiosity from law enforcement after he became Boss (which I guess was sort of unavoidable at that point in time given what was going on with law enforcement around the country). By this point, as you’ll see, the family already had several informants providing information to the government. In fact, there were probably informants in some high-ranking positions (without naming names), and the impression I got was that the informants were well-placed.

By the early part of 1962, informants out of San Francisco had noted that Cerrito was the clear leader in San Jose’s underworld, saying the following about his ascension:

“SF T-30 on January 25, 1962, advised that Joseph Cerrito is the head of the Italian-Sicilian Organization at San Jose, California. Cerrito is the ‘Don’ or head of two groups at San Jose and of a group in Modesto, California. He originally was a ‘capo’ in San Jose.

Cerrito has issued instructions that members of his two groups are under his direct supervision and that they are to take orders directly from him. Members of the organization are to clear any plans for business ventures, ‘jobs,’ or trips with him. Cerrito reportedly is aware of the fact that this Italian-Sicilian Organization began many years ago in Sicily and it arose out of oppression of peasants by rich land owners, whereupon the peasants bound themselves together for mutual protection.

Meetings of the organization are held at irregular intervals and are called by Cerrito or one of his ‘capos.’ Some of the meetings have been held in the home of Cerrito at Los Gatos, and at Cerrito’s Restaurant (no known relation) in Monterey, California. Some of the meetings have involved as many as 75 individuals.

Some of the meetings also have been held at Paolo’s Restaurant in San Jose, California, and it is believed that Cerrito may be one of the individuals who afforded financial backing to the restaurant. Such a meeting was held at Paolo’s Restaurant in September, 1961, and Cerrito made opening remarks and directed the meeting.

At all of the dinners sponsored by the organization, the food is furnished by Cerrito or one of the leaders of the group. Restaurant bills are paid by means of a Diner’s Club Card presented by Cerrito or one of the leaders.”

So as you can clearly see, during his tenure as Boss, he was reputed to have maintained a relatively tight grip over his family, and things would not always be done in the traditional way of most LCN families. Not only that, but you’re going to see a trend with the Cerrito’s that really stands out. Not only were they very conservative with their approach to crime, they may have been the most risk-averse LCN family in the entire country. And I think that aversion to taking risks would end up having a two-part effect: (1) They will stay out of jail for the most part, (2) the lack of obvious aggression will lead to a general lack of respect.

As Boss, Cerrito would go on to dictate that his family members avoid taking part in petty street crimes and focus on hiding their illegitimate income in legitimate business ventures. They were instructed directly by Cerrito to keep their contacts to a minimum, which I think was smart, while the FBI and other federal agencies has their organization under close scrutiny.

In fact, information gained by federal authorities would suggest that under Cerrito’s reign, the family kept most criminal activity under the radar in favor of legitimate activities. And as you’re about to see, the organization under Cerrito maybe wasn’t as fearsome as some other LCN organizations around the country at the time, though in the end their strategy may have ultimately been wiser (despite not being as glamorous).

In fact, FBI reports would notate that the family exhibited “little enthusiasm for illegal activities,” though they should be closely monitored to ensure illegal operations were immediately known. So this tells me that the FBI had nothing despite having all of these informants.

An informant would tell the FBI that after the family inducted him as a member – behind a cheese factory (likely the California Cheese Company) in San Jose – he was told he would have to pay $5 a month into the organization, though that requirement was later dropped.

The family also informed him he might be called on to commit a crime, but that he could never commit a crime without the consent of the organization. However, they told him that if he were ordered to commit a crime, he was to “try to do good work.”

Now to the Cerrito family’s credit, due to their focus on legitimate activities, the Feds would have a challenging time catching them doing anything illegal. This was fairly consistent in my research. But there was one incident that caught my attention, and it didn’t reflect well on the family’s ability to follow through with what was probably a necessary level of lethal accountability on their part:

“The only known illegal action of the San Jose group which has been planned and as yet has not been carried out, was an attempt to collect a large sum of money from a prominent and wealthy casino operator in Reno, Nevada, on the grounds that this man had made a contract with a member of the San Jose group for a killing and later welched on the contract. This casino operator called off the killing and refused to pay, whereupon Cerrito was told of the situation after attempts to collect in 1956 were unsuccessful. Cerrito thereafter directed the efforts of the group to collect and called a meeting in this connection in July, 1961, at a place he owned in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In January, 1962, Cerrito issued instructions to kill the casino operator, but to date these instructions have not been carried out. Cerrito has expressed concern over the fact that the San Jose group is the ‘laughing stock’ in other groups throughout the country for its failure to collect or to take action in this matter, and has expressed concern that some other group might move in and make the ‘collection’ on its own.”

Now I think Cerrito may have been ahead of the curve and quite astute with respect to making the family legitimize itself. However, as you’ll see I think there is another side to the San Jose family, and the more I found the more I got the sense that the family (and Cerrito) wasn’t greatly featured or respected by the people it was dealing with, its members, and other LCN families. And that’s not just me speculating, there are reports saying that the family lost prestige as a result of the lack of ability to handle this issue. In that life, reputation is everything, and unfortunately for the Cerrito’s, there would be more reports along these lines that would further illustrate the fundamental lack of respect and lack of ferocity that the San Jose family would have during the Joe Cerrito era.

Now this isn’t to say that the lack of violence was a failure of Cerrito to order such things. In fact, I did find several instances of Cerrito ordering someone to be beaten or even more.

“On June 28, 1962, SF T-12 advised that on June 27, 1962, he determined that Joseph Cerrito had asked Misuraca, Camarata, and Costanza to ‘take care of’ some unidentified individual in the San Francisco area, who had gotten completely out of line. Cerrito directed that the individual be given a beating he wouldn’t forget and be given to understand why he was being worked over. According to informant, Cerrito noted that even if the individual died, it would be no great loss to the organization.”

So clearly, the man had no issue ordering violence. The problem tended to be (no pun intended) the execution of the orders. Now according to reports, the Reno issue and the San Francisco beating were connected. As part of a “trade of sorts,” New York would take over collection of the money from the Reno casino operator, who turned out to be a man named Harold Smith Sr., and San Jose would take care of the beating of the individual in San Francisco. After this, Cerrito was said to have been no longer interested in the Reno issue though members of the mob on the East Coast were very unhappy that the job had not been accomplished.

And you would think that would have been the end of it, but unfortunately it wasn’t. According to another FBI report dated June 29th of 1962, the issue may have been an internal dispute within the family involving future boss and at the time a capo, Angelo Marino.

The report reads:

“On June 29, 1962, SF T-1 advised that he felt that Marino of the California Cheese Company might possibly be the target for the beating proposed by Cerrito as described above. He said he believed this for the reason that Cerrito has displayed Marino’s ‘big-shot attitude’ and aggressive manner in entertaining visiting hoodlums in this area, thus overshadowing Cerrito. Cerrito also feels that Marino has usurped some of his status as head of the organization in this area. Informant noted that Marino had better ‘get in line’ or his head would look like a piece of mozzarella cheese.

Informant also noted that Marino was having an indiscreet love affair, which was a matter discussed with Cerrito and his associates. He pointed out further that Marino’s wife, the former Precious Maggio, is aware of Angelo’s infidelity, and she is the daughter of the late Mike Maggio, former powerful hoodlum figure in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

He noted that perhaps Marino’s wife would have connections in Philadelphia, which could arrange to have Marino brought into line.”

Though other reports would indicate that Cerrito and Marino had a good relationship, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that I don’t think any of that speaks highly of the San Jose family. And the affair, which we’ll get into next episode when we do a Part II, ruffled many feathers across multiple families.

Now, if you aren’t really getting the picture of who this family seemed to be, here another example of not so “good work” at play when Cerrito ordered someone else to be clipped, and incident which reminded me quite a bit of the Feech La Manna storyline in the Sopranos. This story comes from an informant who was placed well enough to have been meeting with none other than Santo Trafficante who had made a trip to San Jose in 1963 or 1964:

“Informant told Santo that around 1963 or 1964 Angelo came to contact the informant and told him that he had received an execution contract and sought advice. The informant advised that Angelo wanted him to help him but he told Angelo he was still on parole and could have nothing to do with it. He told Angelo to take a couple of trusted ‘soldiers’ and carry out the contract. Sometime later he heard that the intended victim was picked up by Immigration and Naturalization Service (INC) for deportation and he always suspected Angelo, instead of killing the intended victim, made an anonymous call to have him picked up rather than kill him. He stated that from questioning Angelo at that time, he learned Angelo had even talked to the intended victim while the contract was in force and he also learned the contract had been given Angelo by the LCN San Jose boss, Joe Cerrito.”

And let me tell you, and we’ll get into this next episode, Trafficante did not have good things to say about Angelo Marino. From what I read, it was pretty bad.

And not only that, and I think you’re going to continue to see the lack of respect trend I’ve alluded to continue to play itself out. Failure to carry out a boss’ orders on such an assignment in many other families would mean you’d be whacked yourself. But in the Cerrito family, while I don’t want to say it was soft because it still was the Mafia, the same level of internal accountability and deadly consequences didn’t seem to be honored or taken seriously.

And as you got a few years into the 1960’s, the Cerrito family (if you couldn’t tell) would begin to have trouble with informants. And the FBI would attempt to capitalize by pulling in various family members and associates and subjecting them to interviews. Tickling the wire so to speak. The group that was pulled in included: Sal Costanza, Pete Misuraca (brother of John Misuraca of the Profaci family and the family was having a lot of issues with Pete), Alex Camarata (who was in fact the son-in-law of Pete’s brother, John Misuraca), Angelo Marino, and potentially several more.

This development was as you might expect fairly upsetting to Joe Cerrito. First, and I agree with this criticism from the mobster’s perspective, he was critical because they allowed themselves to be interviewed without their lawyer present (not wise). Second, very few of them save for Marino had advised him that they’d been interviewed, and even Joe Bonanno was reputed to have been watching these developments. In other LCN families, when this type of thing happens, people tend to get whacked, but again for whatever reason, nothing seems to have happened in this family (despite making some family members fairly nervous). The goal of course of these interviews was to get even more members to flip, but as I said the FBI didn’t seem to have an issue with getting informants in San Jose, just with catching them doing anything illegal.

Now in 1963, you also have the Valachi hearings, and though he wasn’t the main focus, Joe Cerrito’s face would be one of just twenty-two other men on the F.B.I. Intelligence chart illustrating national Mafia leaders. As someone who wanted to keep a low-profile, and to keep up the thin veneer of being just a mild-mannered car salesman, this is of course not the publicity Cerrito would want to court.

Fast-forwarding to July 14, 1964, Cerrito’s daughter Paula was married, and afterwards a massive reception was thrown at the St. Claire Hotel (now a Westin) in downtown San Jose. As you’d expect, most of the crime family attended, including Cerrito’s underboss, Emanuel “Manny” Figlia. Additionally, while there wasn’t huge attendance from LCN figures outside of San Jose, the wedding was attended by Salvatore Profaci, son of the late New York boss Joe Profaci, and later an important figure in New York’s Colombo family in his own right. That said, Profaci was apparently the only out-of-town LCN guest, likely due to the fact that he owned property east of San Jose in Modesto.

As you might expect, the large and flashy wedding reception drew increased attention from law enforcement. And it exposed a bit of hypocrisy on Cerrito’s part and even drew criticism from LCN figures, especially Alex Camarata, who shared his sentiments to an FBI informant (which were in turn included in an FBI report) that were very critical of Cerrito for inviting his entire LCN family to the wedding, when he himself has expressly recommended that the family not be seen together at funerals, weddings and social functions.

Also in 1964, with the FBI watching his every move, Cerrito took a vacation to Europe that was notable enough to even be reported in the local papers. During the trip, he was spotted vacationing not just in Europe, but in Palermo with his wife, and allegedly used the occasion to meet a man named Frank Garofalo at a hotel in his hometown of Palermo, Sicily. Of course, the meeting is significant as Garofalo wasn’t just a nobody, he was a former administration member of the Bonanno’s under family namesake, Joe Bonanno (who the Cerrito’s were also close to) and the man authorities believe helped to set up the hit of famed newspaper editor Carlo Tresca back in the 1940’s. Many would speculate that the pair were discussing the war within the Bonanno family, dubbed the “Bananas War,” which was raging in New York City at the time.

And what I find funny here is that the local media, even with Cerrito’s presence at Apalachin being reported, the local media (who usually seems to be all over this stuff) seemed to have zero clue about Cerrito’s status within the Mafia, though the FBI was all over him (unless they just kept their knowledge under wraps out of fear). Cerrito was still advertising his dealership all over the local papers with no issues or disruptions, and it was actually quite rare for me to find anything but old dealership ads in my research until about the mid-1960’s.

On August 2, 1965, Italian authorities in Palermo, Sicily would conduct a series of pre-dawn raids ending in the arrest of 9 men (with a total of 14 warrants issued) who law enforcement suspected of having links with the Sicilian and American Cosa Nostra. Cerrito was one of the 14 men sought by authorities, though he wouldn’t actually be arrested. A few of those arrested were Giuseppe Genco Russo, reported as the long reputed head of the Mafia in Sicily, Frank “Three Fingers” Coppola who had been connected with the Detroit LCN before being deported from the United States back to Italy in the 1940’s, and of course Frank Garofalo who we just mentioned.

Cerrito as you might expect would deny any ties to the Mafia saying that, “it must be a case of mistaken identity, but it certainly gives my salesmen something to talk about.” Cerrito would later be cleared of any official ties to the Italian Mafia, but would remain under surveillance by U.S. authorities for the remainder of his life.

Anyhow, the Cerrito family would continue to cut their path forward in the mid-1960’s, largely avoiding major prosecutions as a family, even while being under constant surveillance by the authorities. There were still issues in the family with a general lack of respect being shown to superiors, but things were somehow still running.

However, by the Summer of 1967 the heat brought down by the FBI was so bad that Cerrito made the decision in July 1967 to temporarily suspend all meetings between San Jose LCN members, advising the family members that for a time they were on their own. Now, in my experience, this move was pretty unprecedented especially in what was supposed to be the golden era of the Mafia. Honestly, this was probably an astute move and something you see more often in today’s Mafia than in the mob during its heyday in the 1960’s.

And then in a reversal (and not to bring up the subject of weddings again), it should be noted that in December of 1967 Cerrito again made it clear that he “desired” all San Jose LCN members to be present at the wedding” of the daughter of family member, Pete Misuraca. So I get that weddings are a big thing in any culture, but this was just another edict that sort of flew in the face of Cerrito’s recommendation that the family not be seen together at funerals, weddings, and social functions. So either he decided to loosen his restriction from earlier in the Summer, or he was somewhat of a hypocrite.

Another part of this wedding that came out seemed to indicate that one of his soldiers, the same Alex Cammarata that had criticized him in 1964 during his daughter’s wedding, was beefing with Pete Misuraca. According the report, Capo de Decina Emanuel “Manny” Figlio said to an informant that Cerrito left specific instructions that Sal Costanza was to make certain that Alex Cammarata attended the wedding by making arrangements to travel to the church together. Cerrito apparently felt that if Alex went to this wedding, it would be a step in the right direction towards ending his feud with Pete Misuraca. Apparently the issues with Misuraca were deep-seated, and there would even be a murder plot against him allegedly okayed the killing, though it didn’t actually happen.

So again, some ongoing and potentially murderous inter-family drama, and another excuse for the FBI to surveille members of the family. Now I know what you’ll say, these events were more celebrated and almost required within most other families. And I agree that it’s true. However, if you’re going to say that the family shouldn’t be seen together, and then require the family to attend these events, it’s a bit hypocritical, and that’s all I’m going to point out here.

Then in the Fall of 1967, a series of magazine articles would put the family squarely in the spotlight, and would lead them down a path that would shine a light on them nationally and also continue to increase the sense of relative tension and dysfunction that appeared to have been happening within the family (with many pointing fingers at Cerrito himself).

The articles in question were a feature on the national Mafia by LIFE Magazine in 1967, in which Cerrito would be featured as the Mafia Boss of San Jose (and in which other LCN bosses would also be featured prominently. As you might expect, the article greatly angered Cerrito so much so that he actually sued the magazine in a case entitled “Joseph Cerrito vs. Time, Inc., Life Magazine, Etal” for $7 million dollars ($2MM in compensatory and $5MM in punitive damages), accusing the publisher of libel and saying the articles were “false and malicious.” He was represented in the suit by Jack Wasserman, who was most notably chief counsel for another infamous mob figure, Carlos Marcello, the boss of New Orleans.

Now, in the end, the lawsuit didn’t end up really having any teeth and was eventually thrown out of court with the judge stating that Cerrito’s case “was not persuasive that Life’s action in printing the statement concerning the plaintiff was malicious and was made with reckless disregard of the truth.”

According to reports I found, while I don’t think anyone blamed him for the initial publicity of the LIFE article, several family members (who were in fact informants) were upset at Cerrito for the increased heat his lawsuit brought upon the family.

One such report from an informant let loose on Cerrito:

“The following information is placed on the Administrative pages of this report as it refers to the statements made by TE informants in regard to their reaction to the March 15th issue of ‘Life’ magazine regarding Joseph Cerrito and LCN members in this area.

On March 20, 1968, SF [Redacted]-C-TE was contacted at his home in Richmond, California, by SAs Rudolph H. Mancini and Richard Vitamanti, at which time he related that he had read the article and said, ‘It puts me right in the middle.’ Informant advised that since the article names him [redacted] as the one who allegedly [redacted] the matter with [redacted], Joe Cerrito and his ‘flunkies’ will be looking for a ‘patsy’ and the sole blame for bringing the bad publicity to the San Jose family will be placed on his shoulders. Informant said that Cerrito will not take into account that he ‘started the whole mess’ with his libel suit against ‘Life’ magazine. Informant advised that, in addition, he did not tell Cerrito to go to Italy and get ‘fouled up’ as he did.”

I actually had another report, which suggested something interesting about the potential intended legal consequences of the lawsuit.

“On December Eleven SF [Redacted] Dash C Dash TE in contact with Alex Camarata, San Jose LCN Member, who is son-in-law of New York Capo Decina John Misuraca. Informant told Camarata that he was recently approached by FBI agents and questioned concerning his frequent contacts with San Jose LCN members and Camarata stated that FBI should be sued just as Joe Cerrito is suing ‘Life’ Magazine. Informant encouraged further discussion re: Cerrito’s liable suit and Camarata stated that a suit of this nature is old Mafia trick used during Prohibition days to force publishers and law enforcement agencies into courtroom where they would be compelled to reveal identities of their informants. Camarata stated that Joe Cerrito did not make the decision to file this libel suit on his own volition, but was ordered to do so by his superiors.”

So, it was about getting informants out in the open.

And of course as the latter part of the report referenced, the idea didn’t come from Cerrito himself. I actually found multiple sources that suggested Cerrito was being instructed directly by Stefano Magaddino to file the libel suit, which was to be supported by others in the national Commission as a test case. So an interesting twist.

The report read:

“On December 8, 1968, SF T-3 advised that he contacted Sal Taranto, San Francisco LCN member on December 7, 1967, to determine through Dominick Anzalone and any other sources the background concerning the reasons for initiation of instant libel suit.

Taranto advised informant that during a recent contact with Anzalone, San Jose LCN member and associate of Joe Cerrito, Anzalone stated that Cerrito received instructions to file a libel suit directly from Steve Magaddino, LCN Commission member, Buffalo, New York. Anzalone informed Taranto that no formal Commission meeting was held which brought about the decision to file this libel suit. According to Anzalone, Commission members were individually contacted and it was agreed that a libel suit should be filed against ‘Life’ magazine as a test case and that Joe Cerrito, being a prominent businessman with little, if any, derogatory background, would be the logical person to file such a suit.

Arrangements were made for contact between Cerrito and Magaddino at pre-arranged telephone pay stations, at which time Cerrito was informed of the ruling of ‘the Commission.’

Taranto also contacted Dominick Ferrito, San Jose LCN member and uncle of Joe Cerrito, who advised Taranto that ‘the Commission’ issued direct instructions to Cerrito to file a libel suit against ‘Life’ magazine. Ferrito had no specific information as to how the decision was made or how instructions were received by Cerrito.

SF T-3 and Sal Taranto personally contacted Manny Figlia, capo decina, San Jose LCN, who is also brother-in-law of Joe Cerrito. Figlia also informed that the libel suit filed against ‘Life’ magazine by Joe Cerrito was done on instructions issued by ‘the Commission.’ Figlia did not volunteer specifically how the decision was brought about or how direct instructions were issued to Cerrito. Figlia additionally advised that should Cerrito’s suit against ‘Life’ magazine be successful, libel suits will be filed by other members named in the magazine articles.”

So, the plot with respect to the LIFE magazine article thickens, and it appears that the national Cosa Nosa felt Cerrito was a safe way to test the legal response to such a suit, which could have significantly opened the floodgates for the Mafia to push back against law enforcement and the media (had it passed). But alas, it didn’t.

The other parts I found interesting were:

1) Seeing how the Commission was so active setting policy on a national level, even all the way in San Jose, and seeing how interconnected and highly communicative all the families actually were behind-the-scenes.

2) Not only that, but in a family as small as the Cerrito’s, you can see that it had the effect of everybody really knowing everyone else’s business. In larger families, sure there is gossip but the people that knew what the Boss was really thinking were far fewer and in between. Whereas with this family, and likely other smaller families across the country, it seemed like they knew every detail pretty quickly.

3) Seeing just how subservient Cerrito was on the national level. Though he was the boss of his family, it was clear that his clout nationally was very limited.

For what it’s worth, there were reports indicating that Cerrito’s friend and San Francisco boss James Lanza was supportive of the libel suit, so take that for what you will.

So essentially that article would push the organization further underground to avoid scrutiny.

Also in 1968, there was also a very bizarre incident between Cerrito and one of his soldiers who was in fact his Uncle, Dominick Ferrito, that sounds a bit like it should have been part of a Mel Brooks movie rather than a real mafia occurrence. When I tell you about it, you’ll either be in shock from laughter or disbelief:

“SC T-2 advised on April 1, 1968, that a recent conversation with Salvatore Taranto, San Francisco family, revealed that Domenic Ferrito had been visited by Joseph Cerrito, boss of the San Jose family at Los Banos, California.

Taranto told informant that Cerrito had informed Ferrito that he was removing him from the San Jose family, and as a result, a violent argument insued resulting in Ferrito chasing Cerrito with a knife around Ferrito’s home.

On April 19, 1968, SC T-2 had determined the above incident resulted from a personal argument involving the then up-coming marriage of Cerrito’s son. Informant stated no action had been taken by Cerrito regarding Ferrito’s ‘membership’ and that Ferrito continues to be a member of the San Jose LCN family.”

Now, some quick clarification that I found in another report was that the dispute had to do with Ferrito’s son Steve, not Cerrito’s son. But alas, that over-the-top bizarre incident is a lot to unpack, but I’m going to try.

First, the fact that this incident occurred and that other families knew about it, was more than likely a major source of embarrassment for Cerrito, and went to show maybe a growing lack of respect he had, maybe even with some of his own men.

Second, a soldier not only arguing with but attacking the boss of a family? In other cities, that man would have been killed probably on the spot. But this just goes to show how things were handled differently and with a bit of a white-glove in some other areas of the country. The lack of retribution or action, even if it was just to shelve Ferrito, was somewhat shocking. And not only that, this guy was his uncle!

Based on that, what incentive do others have then to follow the rules, stay in line, and continue to support Cerrito? But I digress.

By the Summer of ‘68, the FBI would obtain evidence that showed that the San Jose family would regularly use the ranch of a “made” man named Angelo Giammono as a meeting place between San Jose LCN family members or when Eastern LCN members like Misuraca traveled to the West Coast.

However, after the article came out in LIFE magazine, meetings at the ranch ceased due to the increased pressure and scrutiny brought forward by the FBI on the San Jose family.

In 1969, the tension within the family would continue as an affidavit would circulate within the family and family members would be noted as on the fence as to whether they should sign it or not due to the potential legal ramifications. The situation which was a little convoluted involved Alex Camarata, John Adrizzone (the nephew of Joe Cerrito who was also having tax issues), Manny Figlia, and John Misuraca, and apparently Adrizzone had been photographed coming out of a meeting at Misuraca’s residence, and multiple affidavits had been circulated with the group unsure of whether or not they should sign them.

The group, specifically Camarata, wanted to get in touch with Cerrito so that he could advise what they should do, but Cerrito at this time was not agreeing to contact with any LCN members. The FBI believed that this was Cerrito testing who was loyal to him and who was not, while an informant believed that Cerrito was using him. I believe that circulating the affidavit was an attempt by the FBI to “tickle to wire” as they say in order to put enough pressure on members of the family to get them to break and testify against Cerrito.

And of course still bouncing around the legal system by 1969 was the libel suit of Life Magazine, which apparently had been refiled seeking an additional $7MM, a fact which by this point in time had made Cerrito absolutely sick in terms of his level of disgust. Informants would relate the following about a conversation had with Cerrito’s Underboss, Manny Figlia:

“On 3/12/69 Informant contacted Manny Figlia, Under Boss, San Jose LCN Family, during which time they discussed the recent libel suit filed 3/5/69, U.S. District Court, San Francisco, by Joe Cerrito, LCN Boss of the San Jose Family, against Life Magazine for an additional $7,000,000. Informant commented to Figlia that Pete Misuraca was probably ‘fuming’ because the newspapers in referring to the suit, again made reference to the Harold Smith matter to which Manny replied ‘If you think Pete is unhappy, you should see Joe (Cerrito), he’s really sick.”

“Informant said to Manny ‘What do you mean, didn’t he file the new suit?’ and Manny replied ‘Yeah, but he didn’t want to. He’s sick of the whole thing. He wanted to leave sleeping dogs lie. He doesn’t want the money, all he wanted was a retraction.”

“Figlia then related that Cerrito and his wife, during the past week, were guests at his home for a birthday party. Manny said ‘You should see that guy, he’s so depressed and sick that he couldn’t even eat a piece of cake.’ Figlia commented that Cerrito’s ‘wife and kid’ are ‘mad at Joe’ for all of the trouble, particularly the adverse publicity and the loss of his dealership. The Informant told Figlia that he could not understand why Cerrito filed a new libel suit if he wanted to forget the matter. Manny concluded the discussion by saying ‘You don’t understand, you don’t understand.’ Informant added that he did not press Figlia further for discussion on the matter, however, it was his impression that someone convinced Cerrito to file the most recent libel action against Life Magazine against his wishes.”

So, as far as I can tell, the second suit which would eventually be thrown out and amount to nothing, was kind of ruining Cerrito’s life. By that point, the pressure and publicity of the suit had led him to sell what I believe was his pride and joy, his Lincoln Mercury dealership. And to be honest, the thing I’ve been wondering this entire time was if Cerrito regretted (even as Boss) being in the Mafia? And here comes my diatribe for this entire episode.

As far as I can tell, though he was a Boss it wasn’t as if he was immensely wealthy as many other bosses were around the country. While he had certainly done a great job as far as keeping the family from taking major hits from law enforcement even despite the heavy scrutiny caused by the lawsuit and from the FBI (along with the bevy of informants), he didn’t seem to act like a normal Mafia boss might, nor did he seem to have the respect from his peers that you’d expect for someone keeping the family out of the legal fire and who was also not significantly violent.

Which brings me to the question I asked at the top of the episode. If the family wasn’t going to commit crime, and couldn’t or wouldn’t commit murders, why even be a part of Cosa Nostra? What’s the point? It’s like being a pirate but not seeking treasure, swash-buckling, or flying the skull and crossbones.

Like I said, they were the most risk averse crime family I’ve investigated, to the point where I am 100% unclear on what crimes they may have been regularly engaged in since they weren’t operating as openly as a traditional LCN family. And the FBI, despite being all over them, had similar difficulty.

By this point, there was at least one informant who would say in an FBI report that the San Jose and San Francisco LCN families most likely didn’t “have the stomach” to harm him but he was still weighing a possible decision to testify as one of the most important decisions in his life as LCN families in other parts of the country might.

And to be honest, by this point in Cerrito’s tenure, I’m shocked that there wasn’t an attempt made on his life, or an attempt by him on the lives of some of his less loyal soldiers and associates (some of whom were likely informants). On top of that, with all the surveillance and rats, I really can’t believe the FBI were never able to put a solid case together to take members of the family down.

But I digress.

As you got into the 70’s, things would not really get too much better for Cerrito’s leadership and after the absolute mess that was the Life Magazine lawsuit.

In fact, the 70’s would not start off that well at all for Cerrito.

In January of 1970, Cerrito, along with his Underboss Manny Figlia along with key administration members Steve Zoccoli and Philip Morici were named publicly as Mafia leaders within Northern California, thus continuing to put the Cerrito family in the media spotlight, although without the fanfare or rigor typically seen with coverage of the families back East.

A few months later, Cerrito and another man would be sued by a man named Gary Vassar, a local investment counselor who at the time was running for the Democratic Nomination for the 25th Assembly District within California. In the suit, Vassar alleged “intent to defraud” and “undue influence” was used in a purchase of a 27,000 square foot lot, which Vassar paid Cerrito and another man $135,500 for. My guess is that Cerrito, using his reputation as a mob boss, was able to lean on the local businessman to make the deal.

Just a month later, Cerrito along with another famous name, California Governor Ronald Reagan, were sued as well again over the sale, again for the amount of $135,000 of a parcel of land. Although the second suit was eerily similar, they were actually brought by two different people.

And I’ll just point out yet again, that in other cities, a regular citizen likely would be too afraid to bring this type of lawsuit against a sitting mob boss, because of the obvious potential harm that might befall them. I mean, can you imagine someone trying to sue Tony Accardo?!? He’d literally have your eyes ripped out of your head. But again, that sort of fear within the public doesn’t seem to have been there with Cerrito.

And just a month after being sued for the second time in 1970, an article came out in the Los Angeles Times that connects Mayor Joseph L. Alioto with Cerrito and others in the California Mafia. Now, just who was Joseph Alioto?

Joseph L. Alioto. Alioto served as the 36th mayor of San Francisco from 1968 through 1976 and is probably most famous for delivering the nomination speech at Hubert Humphrey’s 1968 presidential campaign, as well as a resurgence in crime under his mayorship, with the infamous case of the Zodiac killer making headlines.

In 1969, an article in Look magazine would allege that Alioto also had ties to Los Angeles mafioso and famous rat, Aledena “Jimmy the Weasel” Fratianno, for which he’d sue the magazine. This is something that I did see in FBI reports.

And again, for Cerrito, just more bad press and time in the spotlight.

According to one report, Cerrito was concerned that the old “snake in the grass” Joe Bonanno, who by late 1973 had been spending some time in the San Jose area, was “trying to take over.” Apparently Bonnano had made trips to San Diego to see Frank Bompensiero, long-time member of the Los Angeles LCN family, as well as Denver, Colorado to what I’d believe to be members of the Smaldone organization and/or the Pueblo LCN (this part of the report was redacted), allegedly in order to garner support to take over from Cerrito.

Ultimately this takeover would never happen, but again this is just more undercutting of Joe Cerrito, whose position at Boss by this point was likely pretty tenuous. That being said, given Bonanno’s status with the Commission, it really does surprise me that Bonnano somehow managed not to get himself whacked, but that’s an entirely different subject which we won’t spend time on today.

But by 1975, members of the family who had long been tired of Cerrito would attempt to get him to step down as boss, efforts to which he was resistant. There were also articles a few years later while Cerrito was still alive laying out just how dissatisfied family members, specifically Angelo Marino, were with Cerrito’s leadership and comparing the group to Jimmy Breslin’s, “Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.” And this happened all while Cerrito was still alive mind you. Here’s a small snippet from the article, and I think this really kind of sums things up:

“For at least 15 years, Angelo Marino has been dissatisfied with the way the Mafia has been run in the Santa Clara Valley.

In fact, Marino’s dissatisfaction with the stewardship of Joseph Cerrito, longtime head of the San Jose Mafia ‘family,’ has at times bordered on open contempt. As Marino saw things, Cerrito cost the family both money and Mafia respect by holding himself and his men aloof from common street rackets.

Members of Cerrito’s family have confined themselves, according to law enforcement officials, largely to such legitimate ventures as auto agencies, orchards, bakeries, dry-cleaning plants and restaurants. All of which irked Marino, who reportedly yearned for more traditional Mafia operations, including gambling, loansharking and extortion.”

So given everything that was going on and the level of contempt likely from more than just Marino, I’m both really surprised that an assassination attempt wasn’t made, and unsurprised because by this point you can see that the family under Cerrito had a significant aversion to public crimes and though they were Mafia, didn’t seem to have the same level of aggression as other families around the country.

It’s also noted that Cerrito’s health was a limiting factor in his activities by this point around 1975 as he had suffered from a long-standing heart condition dating back to the early 1950’s. He would suffer a heart attack in December of 1975, though he’d survive.

By 1976, Cerrito was noted as residing with his wife at their personal residence located at 16370 Matilija Drive, Los Gatos, California, and it was noted that he was virtually retired though he’d continue to play a small role in his son’s businesses.

Cerrito would continue on for this time as the titular head of the San Jose LCN.

In 1977, there would be a murder that would eventually come back to haunt members of the San Jose LCN family, and which we’ll talk far more about in Part 2. In my research, this was really the only time the family got lethal despite several previous plots.

Long-story short, a 24-year-old man named Peter Catelli made the mistake of trying to shake down Angelo Marino for $100,000 and it got him killed and his father, who had tried to intervene on his son’s behalf, shot. His father survived by playing dead and went on to name 3 suspects in the murder: Salvatore Marino (the son of Angelo), Angelo Marino, and a man named Thomas Napolitano, who was the man who’d allegedly driven Catelli to his murder site.

As I said, this case would have larger implications for the family, that could have potentially trickled down to Cerrito himself, but by the time the case played out, Cerrito would be out of the picture.

In July of 1978, Cerrito would be connected by the San Jose Mercury News to Nevada State Treasurer, Mike Mirabelli, accusing Mirabelli of accepting deals of automobiles from Cerrito, as well as some additional elicit activities connected to organized crime.

But before anything could really happen in that case, Cerrito would die on September 7, 1978. Many reports have said he died of a heart attack, but one FBI report I found indicated that he actually died during the course of an open heart surgery. Not that it matters as he was gone either way, but I like to get the details right when I can. Just another example of why trusting sources like Wikipedia can lead you off course.

Cerrito’s funeral would end up being somewhat of a spectacle, and the San Francisco Examiner would notate that his funeral was like his life, part respectable and part gutter:


LOS GATOS—The funeral of Joseph X Cerrito was like his life—part respectable, part gutter.

There as Los Gatos Town Councilman Tom Ferrito serving as a pallbearer for the longtime local resident and businessman.

And there was Cerrito’s fellow businessman, California Cheese Co. President Angelo Marino, said to be as deeply involved as he in Mafia activities.

Marino was angrily shouting at a photographer, introducing upon his mourning, ‘Your mother is a ******* whore.’

Cerrito, dead of natural causes at age 67, had just been carried into St. Mary’s Catholic Church in a solid bronze casket. His wife, Elizabeth, followed the casket as did his three sons and their children.

About 250 of his relatives and friends came to mourn his passing. From the four dozen roses in the casket spray to the graveside floral array at Santa Clara Mission Cemetery, there was no sign of ostentation. Cadillacs were outnumbered by Datsuns 12 to 11, and there was only one Rolls Royce.

A gray-haired man in his early 60’s sighting a photographer he mistook for a federal officer, thrust his chest in front of the lens and before a friend could intervene said: ‘You wanna eat that damned camera for dinner?’”

As noted, Cerrito is buried in Santa Clara Mission Cemetery in Santa Clara, California. Taking over for him as the family’s next boss would be the man who was reported as screaming obscenities at the funeral, one Angelo Marino, who’ll we’ll cover in Part 2 of the Cerrito family.

Now, let’s close the proverbial book on Cerrito. All things considered, and I’m sure you’ll agree after the conclusion of Part 2, of all the bosses of this relatively small family, I think you could probably put Cerrito’s time at the top the most successful era for the family despite the clear strife that existed.

Cerrito wasn’t by any means a gangster based upon my research, but I think the fact that he managed to continue to keep the family functioning despite the obvious scrutiny from law enforcement and eventually national media and the number of informants around the family is commendable. From what I can tell, nobody in the family during his era did serious jail time, and if you think about it, Cerrito may have been ahead of his time when it came to keeping his family low-profile. Certainly the Cerrito’s under his reign didn’t have the glitz and glamor, nor the Hollywood-style murders that we’re used to seeing, but he managed to stay out of prison and died in his own bed so to speak, which of course is the primary goal of any Mafia Don.

That being said, by the time his reign was over the family had also dwindled in size and influence, and with other criminal elements moving in over the next several decades, they would never again seriously contend for significant power in the San Jose underworld.

In the end, Cerrito wouldn’t live to see the ultimate waning days of the crime family he headed for nearly 20 years.

Interestingly enough, just three years before Joe Cerrito passed away, the area—now better known as Silicon Valley—was about to undergo a major change as some company named Apple was founded less than 10 miles away from Cerrito’s auto dealership.

And by the 2010’s, San Jose had the third highest GDP per capita in the world and has become the epicenter for tech giants like Apple, Google, Adobe, eBay, and more.

To end the episode ironically, the area as it stands today is probably more ripe for Mafia-style corruption than ever before. It’s just that the corruption has shifted to the boardrooms of tech giants instead of being out on the streets. The dons these days are the startup founders who made billions, while the Mafia dons of yesteryear are in the ground.

Other "Made" Members

Now of course we’ve spent most of our time talking about the first two bosses of the family, but let’s quickly talk about a few other allegedly “made” members who showed up in FBI reports. It is alleged in FBI reports that by the mid-1970’s the family had around 19 members. The list I’m about to show you is members who were mentioned in reports in the 60’s and 70’s (some of whom may have been dead by the time the figure of 19 was arrived at in the mid-70’s):

  • Angelo Giammona (based in Modesto, California)
  • Angelo Marino – Future Boss of family and Capo
  • Anthony Bonefielo Maggio (Redwood City, California)
  • Anthony Scavuzzo (San Jose, California)
  • Antonio DiGiovanni Ditri
  • Charles Stanley Carbone
  • Domenic Ferrito (based in Los Banos, California)
  • Dominick Anzalone (San Jose, California)
  • Donato Ditri
  • Emanuel “Manny” Figlia – Future Boss of family, long-time Underboss
  • Fillipo “Phil” Zoccoli (San Jose, California)
  • Frank G. Buffa (based in Modesto, California)
  • Frank “Fred” Sorce (San Jose, California)
  • George Adrangna (former Pittsburgh member)
  • Gerald Joseph Gallo
  • Joe Piazza (San Jose, California)
  • Joseph Cusenza
  • Nicolo Ario Guastella
  • Peter “Pete” Misuraca
  • Peter Octavio Morici
  • Phil Morici (San Jose, California)
  • Prospect Salvatore Rule
  • Salvatore Andrea Vassalo (Monterey, California)
  • Salvatore “John” Costanza
  • Salvatore “Nick” Cerrito
  • Salvatore “Sal” Marino – Son of Angelo, Future Boss
  • Stefano “Steve” Zoccoli (San Jose, California)
  • Tom Nicosia (San Jose, California)
  • Vito Adragna (San Jose, California)

Final Thoughts & Closing

Okay, that’s it for this episode! Again, my plan is to keep covering lesser known families while working in content here and there on some more well-known entities. I appreciate the amazing amount of support you’ve given me as we just passed 6,000 subscribers on YouTube (and still growing)!

Coming up next, I’ve got an amazing interview coming down the pipe as well as plans to get back into and finish the Angelo Bruno story.

After those episodes, I’ll be shifting gears to the Castellammarese War as well as digging into some fun anecdotal wiretap conversations I came across during the 1960’s relating to the increased scrutiny coming from the Kennedy administration.

And as I’ve said recently, I’m still looking to do more interviews to sprinkle in between my more documentary-style content. But not just any interviews. I’m specifically looking for people who have stories of running up against the mob either as a result of being in that life, but more likely from people that have no affiliation with the life whatsoever. Like I said last episode, it won’t be your typical talking heads. So if you think you’re one of those people, email me at membersonlypodcastshow@gmail.com.

Also, before you go, please don’t forget to Subscribe so that you can continue to enjoy my content as it’s released and if you have any thoughts please leave them in the comments on YouTube or write us a review on Apple. Lastly, feel free to check out our website at www.membersonlypodcast.com, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook.

I’m still a relatively small channel and could use all the help I can get to grow.

But until next time, gratzie!

Online Sources

Other Sources

  • Several files regarding Joseph X. Cerrito and Angelo Marino obtained via Freedom of Information Act Request (eFOIA) on 12/8/22

Jacob Stoops, the host of The Gangland History Podcast

Jacob Stoops

Host of the Gangland History Podcast

This podcast sits at the intersection of my life-long love for history, my love of mob movies, my now decades-long fascination with the Mafia, as well as my passion for content creation.