#16: History of the Colorado Mob (Part Two)


In this episode, we'll discuss the "golden age" of the Colorado mob including the rise of the Smaldone Crime Family, and the three Smaldone brothers (Clyde, Eugene, and Chauncey), as well as the Pueblo Cosa Nostra family.

Episode Transcript

Episode Teaser

As West entered his automobile parked in downtown Denver, Smaldone enforcers Frank Mazza, Porky Routta, and Paul Enrichi, who long had been known as bodyguards and strong-arm men for the Smaldones, accosted West, forced him into the automobile and ordered him to drive out onto the Pecos Road outside of Denver.

An informant years later related that undoubtedly these men intended to kill West but the latter jumped out of the automobile as it was proceeding through downtown Denver streets, started screaming, and raised such a commotion that his assailants fled the scene.

A few days after this incident Colosacco went to talk things over with the Smaldones in their office at Gaetano’s Restaurant and there Clyde and Eugene Smaldone told him if he and his partner desired to continue their gambling activities at Priola’s farm, it would be necessary henceforth to pay to Smaldone’s 50% of the gambling proceeds.


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 Part One of this two-part series on the Colorado Mafia, we laid out how the organization that would later become known as the Smaldone Crime Family, which ran organized crime in Denver and much of Colorado during the 20th century, came to be.

We covered several major events including:

  • Early Italian immigration to Colorado
  • How Prohibition contributed to the rise of the mobs
  • The story of the Carlino Brothers, Pete, Sam and Charlie Carlino
  • The Carlino’s war with the Danna family
  • The “Bootlegger’s Convention” in Denver in 1931
  • The murder of Pete and Sam Carlino
  • The rise and fall of Giuseppe “Joe” Roma

Today we’re going to dig into the era of the Smaldone brothers. My hope is to cover most of the history behind this family which ran most of the rackets in and around Denver, Colorado throughout the 1930’s through the 1980’s. We’re also going to touch on their connection to the Mafia in Pueblo, Colorado, and discuss some of the players in that family as well.

Now, I can’t quite pinpoint why I’m so specifically fascinated by the Smaldone brothers, but as you’ll see their story is pretty epic, and I think you’re going to see—similar to last episode—that there was just as much going on with organized crime in Colorado as other areas of the country, and it was well covered, but it just never got the publicity nor does it have the prestige of the East Coast mob.

As a reminder, before we get into the episode, if you’re watching on YouTube, I’d just like to remind you to please smash that subscribe button and turn on the bell to get notifications when I release a new episode. Also, if you’re listening to the audio-only version, subscribe and if you’re willing leave me a rating and review to tell me what you think of the content.

Now, let’s continue our story, Part 2 of the History of the Colorado Mob!

The Rise of the Smaldone Brothers

We’re going to pick up where we left off in Part One.

The date was February 18, 1933 and the preeminent gang boss in the entire state of Colorado, Giuseppe “Joe” Roma, had just been assassinated. The diminutive 5’2” mobster known as “Little Caesar” was found slumped dead in a chair in his front parlor of his home on 3504 Vallejo Street in North Denver by his wife, Nettie, riddled with seven bullets (including six shots to the head).

This underworld murder was just the latest in a series of tit-for-tat slayings that had been plaguing the Colorado area for at least a decade dating back to the days of the Carlino-Danna family wars.

After both the Carlinos and the Dannas were wiped out, Giuseppe “Joe” Roma had filled the power vacuum and was the dominant mafiosi in most of Colorado from 1931 (after having Sam and Pete Carlino, aka “The Al Capone of Southern Colorado” whacked in the process) until meeting his own grizzly demise in February of 1933.

Now it’s important that you know the players as the men who came next had ties into both groups at times during the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Shortly after the assassination police detained and questioned many suspects including two brothers who were allegedly top lieutenants for Roma: Clyde “Flip Flop” Smaldone and Eugene “Checkers’ Smaldone.

According to a report in the Fort Collins Coloradoan:

“The Smaldones, Spinelli and Brindisi told Clark they visited Roma from 10 a.m. until afternoon Saturday in an effort to borrow money. They left shortly after noon and went to a motion picture house, they said, differing, however, on the house they attended, Clark said. They returned to the Roma home after word got around that Mrs. Roma had found her husband’s body at 1:45 p.m. and then voluntarily went to police headquarters. Police Chief Clark said they showed ticket stubs indicating they entered the theater at 1:55 p.m.”

Though they were questioned and had an alibi, they were ultimately not charged in the assassination of Roma, and Roma’s murderers were never actually brought to justice.

As I mentioned in the first episode of this series, nobody really knows for sure except those involved who killed Roma, but it certainly looked very suspicious from a law enforcement perspective to be seen at the victim’s house less than two hours before he was shot and killed.

According to the book Smaldone: The Untold Story of an American Crime Family written by Dick Kreck, Clyde Smaldone would say the following in a tape-recorded family interview some sixty years after the fact:

“[Somebody] shot him in his house. [The police] thought we did it because we left the house about two hours before he got shot. Well, they knew we didn’t do it, but somebody shot him. It don’t bother me one way or another. [The Pueblo mobs] was always arguing and fighting amongst themselves about the business, and they weren’t capable of handling business, to tell you the truth. They was all right making moonshine, but to sell it, they didn’t have a diplomatic way of talking to people to get business. Most of them couldn’t hardly talk English.”

The funeral, in which the Smaldones contributed two of the most massive floral arrangements at Roma’s funeral, was attended by over 2,000 people.

The ‘who-done-it’ notwithstanding, one thing was for certain after the murder. The death of Roma led to a significant vacuum in the Denver underworld that would be filled in time by the enterprising Smaldone brothers in partnership with their southern Colorado allies in the Pueblo Mafia.

Now, let’s step back out for just a second and give a brief background on the Smaldone brothers, and just how they fit into the overall picture by the early 1930’s.

We’ll begin with their parentage.

Raffaele Smaldone (the father of the Smaldone brothers) was born in Potenza, Italy in 1882, and at the age of two immigrated with his parents Gaetano and Katrina to the United States.

The family would set up shop in Buffalo, New York, but by 1889 after five years living in Buffalo, decided to make a change and moved the family across the country to the wide open spaces and mile-high air of Denver, Colorado.

At the time, an economic boom had hit Colorado, which meant that there were plenty of jobs available for Italians if they were willing to accept the risk of taking on backbreaking and relatively dangerous jobs working on the railroads or in the mines.

In 1901, Raffaele, who by then had “Americanized” his name to Ralph, married Mamie Figliolino, and the couple would go on to have eleven children. The family lived in a small house at 3427 Osage Street in Denver, Colorado.

Clyde would be the first-born son in 1906 followed by five more sons: Eugene (born 1910), Anthony (born 1914), Andrew (born 1917), Ralph (born 1921), and Clarence (born 1924).

Now, with many gangster stories, you’ll find that they typically come from broken homes, poverty, and often lack a father figure. That did not seem to be the case with the Smaldone family.

Raffaele landed a job as a laborer with the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad making $30 per month, and when he became a foreman his salary increased to $40 per month which allowed him to replace the family’s outhouse with an in-home toilet and bathtub, a relative luxury at the time for a large Italian family. Eventually, Raffaele changed careers and took up work as a fruit and vegetable peddler. After pulling together enough money to buy a horse and wagon, he began making deliveries all over town, including the wealthier neighborhoods.

And while the Smaldone family certainly was not destitute, they still had a lot of mouths to feed, and as was normal of the times, the boys would put in work to help support the family.

As was expected in those days of first-born sons, Clyde would labor with his father in the fruit and vegetable business. In time, he also got a job selling newspapers all over town (often from dusk until dawn), and he and his brothers would also find more creative ways to support the family. According to Clyde, he and his brother Eugene would hang out by the railroad hurling rocks at the steam-locomotive crews that drove by, and when the crews responded by throwing chunks of coal, the boys would carry them home to help heat the house.

But the business of the Smaldone family would soon change, and Raffaele along with his sons would find another means for making money: bootlegging.

Now as I covered at length in Part One, bootlegging would become a critical driving force in the development and advancement of the Mafia across the country. It was no different in Colorado, and in fact Colorado even got a head start.

The state would enact Prohibition and go “dry” in 1916, a full three years ahead of the Volstead Act which was enacted nationally in 1919. And of course history tells us that this was an immensely unpopular law that was difficult to enforce, and a still-thirsty public got their fill of booze from bootleggers who had redirected and coalesced their organizations around producing and selling bootleg alcohol.

Capitalizing on the opportunity, Raffaele “Ralph” Smaldone would begin selling moonshine to speakeasies in Denver. His “runners” would be none other than his sons, Clyde and “Checkers.” Clyde by that point was entering his teens and Eugene “Checkers” Smaldone was not far behind during the early days of Prohibition. And considering how competitive and volatile the Colorado underworld would be in the 1920’s, anyone who chose this as a profession did so at risk of great personal harm and even death. But as an Italian family, it was only natural to rely on your sons, and the money to be made was significant even with the obvious risks involved.

The boys, especially Clyde, had a naturally entrepreneurial spirit and didn’t mind taking risks from time to time. According to an interview Clyde would give in later years, he and his friends would undercut other bootleggers by finding out where they hid their booze, stealing it, and selling it for a lower price. They would scout their rivals to find out where they kept their liquor, and when the opportunity was right they’d swoop in. They were known to have ransacked many garages around North Denver in search of booze to sell.

Despite the dangers, Clyde—ever the ambitious and calculating businessman—soon found that the possibilities to make money in selling hooch were incredible and made the decision to start his own business, at first partnering with local hood Roxy Stone. Eventually, he’d move on from Roxy and brought his brother Eugene in as a partner once “Checkers” came of proper age.

They took an office in Denver at 34th and Pecos and began selling whiskey, both making their own as well as importing and selling other brands. It wasn’t long before the duo was making good money, so much so that they were able to help their parents out even more by buying toys for their siblings, clothes for their mother and father, and even helping to fix up the family house.

Of course, they would from time to time run up against issues with the police, but Clyde made a habit of paying off the right people—or “decorating the mahogany” as he would put it—to ensure that his business could continue to operate. Like many other bootleggers, the lessons and experiences gained from running their business during the 20’s would benefit them throughout their lives.

Over time, Clyde realized that in order to make real money, he needed to focus on selling the “good stuff,” aka bonded whiskey, which patrons were willing to pay top price for.

The brothers would start by running booze locally, but as time went on would expand operations and would regularly be running liquor between Denver and several Midwest cities including St. Louis, Kansas City, as well as Chicago. The brothers would even begin to venture as far as Canada in order to secure top-shelf bonded whiskey.

As Clyde would relate in his later years, he’d make a lot of important connections during this time and even formed a partnership with the Capone mob in Chicago. In fact, many of the relationships built by key players in cities across the U.S. during the bootlegging years certainly played a significant part why Cosa Nostra and the national crime syndicate was able to function so successfully and so broadly later on. They guys built the connections in the 20’s and they lasted.

He’d share the following about how that relationship got off the ground in an interview that was later recorded in the book that I’ll be citing many times in this episode, Smaldone: The Untold Story of An American Crime Family:

“I went up to Chicago and got talking about getting the stuff up in Canada. They said, ‘Hell, we get a lot of stuff out of there too. Maybe we can work out something a little better.’ I told them how much I paid [$66 a case at the time] and he said, ‘Gee, I’m gonna talk to Al [Capone] about that.’ I told them where I could load it, where they could bring it across the Mississippi to Burlington, Iowa. He says, ‘Al says to give it to you for $35 a case. We’ll only charge you $2 a case [for gasoline and other expenses].’”

Canadian bonded whiskey would end up being such a success that the brothers would find themselves on the road for weeks at a time. Eventually they’d become so busy that they’d bring their younger brother Anthony in on the business as well.

Now the business wasn’t without its dangers. As I shared in Part One, Denver and Pueblo, Colorado in the 1920’s was a veritable shooting gallery. The dominant players were the Carlino brothers, but they had many rivals and went to war with their own kin in the Danna family for almost the entire decade. There were also other Italian groups including the emergence of Giuseppe “Joe” Roma beginning in the mid-20’s, as well as Irish contingents butting heads and shooting it out as well.

Law enforcement authorities would estimate that between 1919 and 1933 (the beginning and end of national Prohibition) there would be at least 30 murders relating to bootlegging and various gangster conflicts in the Denver and larger Colorado area. In fact, based on my research, I actually believed this number to be most likely understated. Their figure indicated about 2 murders per year, which just seems so unrealistically low in comparison to the level of conflict and competition between the various groups in Denver and Pueblo at the time.

So in that way, the action in Colorado during the 20’s parallels most other big cities at this time which were nearly universally experiencing their own strife as well. And the Smaldones would certainly experience the peril of their chosen profession as well.

Based on my research, there were indications that the Smaldone brothers had a close relationship at times with the Carlino brothers, and they would end up working either for or in close partnership with the Giuseppe “Joe” Roma organization as well in the early 30’s. There’s almost no way to have existed in this organization without getting your hands dirty, and as we stated in Part One, it’s pretty clear that Roma engineered the assassination of the Carlino’s before he himself was killed.

And so, it’s around this time in the 20’s and early 30’s that the Smaldone brothers began regularly showing up in police blotter, racking up many arrests between them.

In 1920, at the tender age of 13, Clyde would be arrested on a burglary charge for stealing a pair of pants from a local hardware store. It would certainly not be his last trip through the juvenile court system. Additional arrests for bootlegging, reckless driving, more burglaries, impersonation of police officers, receiving stolen goods, hijacking, and brawling would follow.

In 1927, Clyde and his confederates were arrested for possession of several gallons of liquor as well as hijacking 96 pints of whiskey from a competitor’s truck.

The Smaldones would continue to rack up arrests, and in 1932, they would be arrested several times though no serious charges stuck.

On March 13, 1932, Clyde and another brother James Smaldone would be arrested for an attempt to buy shotgun shells loaded with buckshot at a local pawnshop, which authorities believed was related to attempts on the lives of staff members of District Attorney Earl Wettengel. They would be charged with vagrancy.

Later that year on December 29, 1932, Clyde, “Checkers,” as well as associates Jim Spinelli and future Pueblo LCN Boss Charley Blanda were charged with carrying concealed weapons after a raid at Checkers’ home unveiled a veritable arsenal that included four .35-caliber rifles, two sawed-off shotguns, and a Browning automatic rifle.

Eugene “Checkers” Smaldone would be quoted by police as saying:

“Maybe I like to go hunting. I don’t know anything about this gang stuff.”

And that brings us back to where we began this story, in 1933, just after the assassination of Denver gang lord, Joe Roma. This event as we mentioned would leave a huge power vacuum in the Colorado underworld, and the Smaldones would be the ones who would eventually fill it.

The Smaldone's Golden Era

The Smaldone brothers began their ascension to relative power after the murder of Joe Roma in 1933, but it wouldn’t be immediate. In fact, the beginning of their era would start with a relative thud as for the first time in their lives they would spend significant time behind bars.

Now according to them, what happened was a “frame-up” by federal law enforcement, but the fact of the matter is that in 1933 their parents Raffaele and Mamie Smaldone would be caught peddling alcohol out of their home in North Denver. According to Clyde, and despite his father’s involvement in a barroom business, his parents were ignorant of Prohibition laws, and the feds true targets were himself, his brothers, and their associates.

As a result, and to keep their parents out of jail, Clyde and Checkers struck a deal with the authorities, pleading guilty to violation of federal liquor laws in exchange for their parents’ release from further prosecution.

The judge in the case, Judge J. Foster Symes (pronounced Simms) would say the following:

“My only regret in this case is that the owners of the still didn’t kill you all off. That would have saved the government the expense of bothering with you.”

The reference to the still was in relation to a recent gunfight in Florissant in which hijackers, reputed to have been Clyde, Checkers, Charley Blanda, and a few others, were fired upon while stealing a large quantity of alcohol from a rival gang. One of the Smaldone brother’s associates, a young man named John Pacello was killed in the gunfight, and all of the men had deep associations with Joe Roma.

So it’s clear that by this point, the Smaldones were in the crosshairs and had gained a fairly negative reputation from many in law enforcement, some of their own doing and some by association with major underworld figures, despite regularly “decorating the mahogany.”

So in May of 1933 following their guilty pleas, Clyde and Checkers would be sentenced to serve 18 months in federal prison at Leavenworth, Kansas and fined $1,000 apiece (roughly $22,000 in today’s money).

While this is going on, the primary source of their income, that being bootlegging went belly-up as growing public sentiments against Prohibition finally led the government to pass repeals of the Volstead Act in 1933, making alcohol production essentially legal again. This happens roughly 10 months after the Roma assassination.

So by the time the brothers are released from prison, Prohibition is over, and like many bootleggers across the country they’d be forced to look for a new way to make money.

Clyde and Checkers would both be released in the following year, 1934.

Now before we go further with the chronology of events, let’s take a quick step back so we can provide you with a brief synopsis of who the brothers were, so that you better understand the relationship between them and the other factions.

First and foremost, I want to make it clear that the Smaldones, while gangsters for sure, were not Mafia nor was their family an official Cosa Nostra family. This actually surprised me in my research as I went into these episodes thinking they were LCN, so it’s just the latest example of me believing one thing and my research uncovering another.

So I’d say they were more of the Al Capone variety of mob meaning there were no inductions, no official titles, etc. Within declassified law enforcement documents, my research almost always referred to the Smaldones using the words “Suspected LCN” rather than official LCN (which was used to describe some of their true Mafia associates).

Though the Smaldones were allowed to essentially run Denver and had huge sway across the entire state, the real “official” Mafia was down in Pueblo. What’s clear to me is that the Smaldones had formed close working partnerships with their counterparts in the Pueblo LCN, but it seems they were just never brought in nor did they adopt the formal rules of Cosa Nostra.

And you will see if you look up for example Colorado mob and you get to Wikipedia, you’re going to see lists of Boss, Underboss in certain years, and you’re going to see the Smaldones and the Pueblo organization merged together when in fact they weren’t one organization. They were two separate entities.

Now if someone disagrees, I’m willing to debate, but nothing in my documentation or research indicated that they ever became true LCN, though you’ll see them reported as such especially in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

From what I can tell, the lines here were very much blurred and the Smaldones certainly did hold true to some core values such as keeping their mouths shut (which they did almost until the end of their lives), as well as operating in a lot of the same rackets as traditional Cosa Nostra families, and even using the same tactics—up to and including being allegedly involved in several murders throughout their time running the Denver underworld.

Clyde Smaldone was the oldest brother and veritable leader of the Smaldone organization. By the time he got to the mid-1930’s, he was in his late 20’s (so still pretty young). Many will say that he was gifted with two distinct qualities.

First, he had “street smarts” which allowed him to navigate the 1920’s and early 1930’s relatively unscathed. This is a tremendous feat considering how close he was to so many of the key players who themselves ended up violently murdered.

Second, and this would serve him well during his time in organized crime, he was very adept at building relationships with important people due to his gentlemanly, affable, and outgoing personality. As a result, he made friends in high places, which would allow him to have significant influence with important businessmen, law enforcement, local civic leaders, and many high-end politicians (up to and including meeting and famously providing booze for none other than President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his 1931 “whistle stop” tour and meeting Harry Truman before he became President when he was just getting started in Kansas City).

Not that this last part is something to be proud of, but he even was able to get along with the local Ku Klux Klan (which had infiltrated nearly all levels of government in Denver at the time). Similar to construction companies having to do business with the Mafia in New York City in the 70’s and 80’s in order to essentially get anything done, in Denver in the 20’s and 30’s, you pretty much had to deal with the unsavory figures of the KKK. It was just a fact of life at the time.

Over the years, Clyde and his brothers would rub elbows foster relationships with many key Cosa Nostra figures across the United States including the likes of Carlos Marcello (of New Orleans), Vito Genovese and Frank Costello (out of New York), and the aforementioned Al Capone (who he met during Prohibition).

While he was in power, in line with the truest principles of Omertà, his memory would conveniently fail him when asked about his friends. Later in life, when interviewed by his family, he would only offer the following:

“It was a long time ago, yes. I knew a lot of them, but I can’t remember their names. I don’t care who he was. We had friends every place in the United States. Everybody we had to know, we knew.”

As a matter of fact, I tend to think of Clyde as someone similar to a Frank Costello type within the Colorado underworld. He was certainly tough, but more often than not used his brain to make money and advance his interests by knowing and influencing the right people.

Now the last thing I’ll say about Clyde is that he was known to have a big heart. Over the years the Smaldones as a family and an organization were known to have helped out many families in need, they gave coal and groceries to many North Denver neighbors, went to bat with police when neighborhood kids ran afoul of the law, donated large sums of money specifically to the local Catholic Church and other community projects, and even raised money to help build a local high school.

Similar to what you’ll hear in other mob-run communities during this time, it’s clear that the Smaldones took care of their neighborhood, and a large part of the local community saw them as Robin Hood type figures, though a large part of law enforcement hated them.

Clyde would be quoted as saying the following:

“Anybody that we heard that needed something, they could come and they’d get money, we’d get ‘em food. We brought truckloads [of food] to the orphans.”

Okay, so before we jump back into the chronological timeline of the Smaldone era, let’s quickly jump over to talk about the other key brother, Eugene “Checkers’ Smaldone.

Checkers, as he would come to be known, would allegedly receive his nickname due to his wizardry at that game, for which he’d allegedly won several city tournaments as a youth, and the nickname stuck for the remainder of his life.

As far as personalities go, the two brothers were very different. Checkers was younger than Clyde by four years, and many would describe him as not having the brains for finesse of his older brother, but he was known to be more physically intimidating and tougher. He’s not a guy you wanted to piss off. While friends and police would often describe Clyde with words like “gentleman,” they’d often refer to Checkers as “mean” though some in law-enforcement thought him “the school-teacher type.” So there were perspectives on both sides, but of the two, he was definitely the tougher one, and you’ll see that.

Checkers rang up his first arrest at the age of fifteen in 1925 when he was caught stealing automobile accessories. A year later he’d be arrested again for going on an amazing car theft spree of stealing twenty-five cars in just ten days! In the early days, he’d also been arrested for bootlegging, attacking a police officer, reckless driving, stealing merchandise from local stores, and for assaulting a police informant during an illicit liquor delivery. By the time it was all said and done, his criminal record would stretch over seven decades, and though he’d be a suspect in several murders, he was never actually convicted of killing anyone.

During the Smaldone era, Checkers was the one brother most closely aligned to the Pueblo LCN and the brother who over time had the tightest connections in general to the Mafia. He was very close with Pueblo Mob leader Charley Blanda, and the pair often went gambling, drinking, and took hunting and fishing trips together.

From the 1920s well into the 1960’s, Checkers would work closely with Clyde, though eventually through a series of events the brothers would have a falling out.

And a lot of the description I just provided makes Checkers seem like kind of a bad dude, but don’t forget that he also had a big part in taking care of the local community, and there was even an infamous story of him saving a little girl (the warden’s niece from when he did time in prison) and another child from being kidnapped as part of a planned a prison break by other inmates.

As the story goes, Checkers faced down a prisoner who during the breakout had pointed a gun directly in his face uttering the words, “Take that thing outta my face,” and then locking himself in a room and (of course) played checkers with the two kids in turn until the danger was over. So talk about a real Clint Eastwood moment….tough…balls of steel right there!

If that’s not showing toughness, heart, and courage, I don’t know what does.

Anyhow, there are other brothers who we’ll cover in a bit, but let’s go ahead and jump back into the timeline.

So if you remember, the brothers Clyde and Eugene would be released from Leavenworth and would return home to Denver in 1934, but by that point things had changed. Prohibition was over, and the brothers would be left kind of looking for a way to make money. It wouldn’t take them long.

Similar to other mobs around the country, gambling presented itself as a major potential source of revenue, and the brothers would jump in head first. Their first move would be to partner with a man named Ova Elijah “Smiling Charlie” Stephens, who was known as a gambling kingpin in the Denver area from the 1930’s into the 1950’s. He’s the guy you needed to know.

At the time, “Smiling Charlie” Stephens was running a popular restaurant and casino with a local gambler named Leo Barnes. The Smaldones were in partnership with Stephens, overseeing the gambling on the casino side. They would begin making good money, and gambling would go on to be the Smaldone’s primary source of revenue for the next several decades. So I think they found their niche right there and then.

The partnership between Stephens and Barnes was extremely volatile, and in the end they’d have a falling out and dissolve the partnership shortly after Barnes tried to take more control over the Blakeland’s operations. He wanted to take on a higher degree of control and kind of “muscle in” on the operations. The venue was ultimately closed in 1936 after receiving complaints from local religious leaders about the gambling.

In the end, the Stephens-Barnes affair would end in an assassination attempt that would get the Smaldone brothers embroiled in some serious legal trouble.

According to the book, Smaldone: The Untold Story Of An American Crime Family:

“Just before 7pm on December 8, 1936, the diminutive gambler and his wife, Pernee, climbed into their 1935 Ford sedan on the 1000 block of Grant Street, near downtown. When Barnes hit the starter, a massive black-powder explosion demolished the sedan. The explosion was so violent it drove a large piece of the windshield fifteen feet up the trunk of a nearby tree and scattered car parts in a hundred foot radius.

Miraculously, Pernee, who was blown out the passenger side door she was about to shut, received only cuts and bruises. Leo wasn’t so lucky. The charge, placed under the driver’s side, drove him through the car’s roof, tore away part of his left buttocks, and broke his pelvis.”

Despite their denials, “Smiling Charlie” Stephens, Clyde and Checkers Smaldone as well as another man, would be arrested and charged with conspiracy. There were two alleged witnesses to the bombing. First, a woman who knew Checkers told police she saw men tampering with the car just before the explosion, and then there was a patrolman who’d told investigators that he’d observed Clyde making a call from a neighborhood phone booth just minutes before the bomb went off.

On April 19, 1937, Stephens, Clyde and Checkers Smaldone would be convicted of assault with attempt to murder and conspiracy to murder.

As a result of this incident, Stephens, Clyde and Checkers each got 7 to 10 years in the state penitentiary for conspiracy to commit murder.

Unfortunately for Clyde, that very same day he’d also be sentenced to 4 to 6 years for his part in (of all things) a $450 robbery of a cigarette, candy, and popcorn truck in Cañon City, Colorado.

In both cases, the Smaldones (as they would throughout their lives) would deny any involvement, and as you’ll see during the rest of this video, I think there is a fine line between things that they actually did versus overzealous prosecution and sentences handed out by a government that had it in for them. In reality, the truth is probably somewhere in between as I’m sure they had a hand in some unsavory things over the years, but as you’ll see later on, there was clearly a bias against them from a law enforcement perspective.

And so again, Clyde would go off to do his time in the state penitentiary in 1938 while Checkers and Stephens would go away in 1939 after a series of failed appeals.

And unfortunately, Clyde was in prison in 1938 when his father Raffaele would pass away, and the real gut-shot was that the warden (with whom Clyde had a very poor relationship) would not grant him a release to attend his father’s funeral.

Clyde would be paroled from Cañon City on December 24, 1942 after serving four years and five months when he received a pardon from his good friend, influential Governor Ralph Carr. It was an instance of the power of his influential relationships paying off.

In January of 1943 (just three weeks after Clyde), Eugene “Checkers” Smaldone was paroled and immediately jumped in with his brother to help run and expand their gambling empire.

The brothers would go to work for their mother Mamie, who at the time owned a struggling establishment called the Tejon Bar and Cafe on 3740 Tejon Street, which the family owned before the more famous Gaetano’s. The restaurant and bar unfortunately was not doing well (they were making only $20 per day), but with Clyde’s instincts and connections, as well the knowledge that with WWII in full swing by that point there was big money to be made on the black market, the Tejon Bar and Cafe was the perfect place to revitalize his career (and of course make more money just outside the law).

In addition to running the Tejon Bar and Cafe, Clyde Smaldone began to enterprise, getting into lucrative slot-machines, beginning to dive full-force into sports parlay betting cards (which were coming into fashion around that time), and they would also partake in more traditional mob rackets including bookmarking and loan sharking.

By Clyde’s account in later years, the Smaldones had successfully placed as many as 585 slot machines in drugstores, bars, and clubs all over the state of Colorado (which were made legal by purchasing a $100 federal tax stamp)—so a nice little loophole.

The Smaldones would also begin to run nightly dice games, most specifically a game called Barbooth (or ‘Barbuit’) across metro Denver or Pueblo. This dice game, which was similar to craps except that there was no house and players played against each other, was a staple in the Italian community that was brought over from the old country. When players ran out of money, of course the Smaldone’s sharks were there to grant loans at exorbitant interest rates. And through all of these activities, literal rivers of cash flowed into the organization.

This is the point where the cash really begins to accumulate for the Smaldone brothers and they’d become rich. According to Clyde’s sons, they’d often observe their father digging through his pockets and extracting fat rolls of money at the end of each workday.

Here’s what Clyde’s son Check was able to recalled years later as told in the book Smaldone: The Untold Story of An American Crime Family:

“He had different pockets, different accounts. This would be gambling money, this would be loan money, and he’d set them down on the table and in different piles, and there was always a big wad, sometimes four, five, six, seven thousand dollars, maybe more.”

To put that in perspective, that’s approximately $49,000-$79,000. Imagine pulling that out of your pockets?!?

In addition to their gambling empire, the Smaldones were wise enough to take advantage of the opportunities created by economic conditions stemming from World War II and moved the family into selling rationed goods on the black market.

Because everything at that time was rationed and difficult to come by, you could make a killing on the black market, and many mobsters did. Most notably, Carlo Gambino made his first millions selling ration stamps during the war. From their bar on Tejon Street, the brothers would sell everything from black market liquor to simple daily items like canned goods, sugar, butter, meat, shoes, clothes, etc. However, the biggest prize was gas stamps, and the Smaldones were able to get and sell plenty of those.

It’s between the mid-to-late 1940’s that between what they were doing in gambling as well as their black market operation that the Smaldone empire reached its zenith going into the early 1950’s. This is kind of the peak. This is where they were at the top of the mountain so to speak.

It was later estimated by law enforcement that the Smaldone mob’s annual revenue from gambling and loan-sharking during their heyday was around $1 million per year (~$7 to $12 million per year in today’s money). This would prove to be the organization’s number one ongoing source of income.

Clyde Smaldone would famously say the following about gambling:

“Once the government found out how much money there was to be made in gambling, they would get into it.”

That statement would prove to be prophetic in later years when most states began to legalize many forms of gambling.

Always the entrepreneur, Clyde Smaldone was always looking for ways to expand the organization’s gambling empire. As a result, in 1947 he identified a small mountain town called Central City which had been seeing a revitalization of tourism and seemed ripe for gambling. In the Summer months of 1947 through 1949, he and his brothers would open and run the Monte Carlo casino which offered craps, roulette, and slot machines among other games to local tourists eager to spend a buck.

Due to the fact that the city was small, with little taxable income to maintain infrastructure, by the time the Smaldones came to town, the place was in relative shambles—despite the Summer booms in tourism. In concert with local government officials however, the Smaldones struck a deal to provide the financing for a new water system, restore a number of houses, and provided the backing for a lunch program for town schoolchildren in exchange for the ability to operate their gambling operation without interference from law enforcement. So they did all those good things so that the law enforcement would look the other way and everybody would be happy. Everybody would make money.

For three years, the residents of Central City and the Smaldones operated harmoniously. The operation included the Smaldones, their enforcer Paul Enrici, and also included members of the Pueblo LCN including Blackie Mazza.

However, in 1949 the party more or less came to an end when a new law-and-order justice of the peace, Lowell Griffith, was elected and began applying heat to the operation. As a result, the Smaldones would eventually pull their operations out of Central City. While they certainly turned a profit, they would later say it wasn’t all great either.

A grand jury in 1951 would later claim that the Smaldone brothers and each of their partners made between $25,000 and $50,000 between 1948 and 1949 just out of Central City (that’s roughly $307-615k in today’s money just from that one enterprise). Now, when brought in for questioning, Clyde refused to answer 106 out of 108 questions put to him by the grand jury’s investigators.

Just as Clyde had predicted, when the state of Colorado approved state-supervised gambling, the revenue poured in. As of 2008, adjusted gross proceeds (total bets minus payouts) from gambling in Central City, and two other approved cities topped $715 million annually.

In the mindset of all of this activity and success, Clyde had managed to steward the Tejon Bar and Cafe through rough times and by 1947 it was thriving. It was at this point that he made the decision to purchase a local drugstore and meat market on the corner of West 38th Ave. and Tejon Street, and turn it into an Italian Restaurant that would come to be known as Gaetano’s (after his paternal grandfather). This restaurant would go on to become an institution in Denver, and it would become the primary base of operations for the Smaldone organization.

An 2021 article by author Matt Masich in Colorado Life Magazine provided an nice, authentic summation of the brothers and the famous eatery and command post:

“THE LITTLE ITALIAN RESTAURANT on northwest Denver’s Tejon Street has a big reputation, and not just for authentic food. From the time Gaetano’s opened in Denver’s Little Italy neighborhood in 1947, everyone knew it as the mob’s hangout. The restaurant’s owners, the Smaldone family, simply called it “the place.”

In the 1950s and ’60s, the Smaldone name was notorious in Denver, instantly recognized as the strong arm of the mob. Banner headlines across the The Denver Post read “Smaldone Brothers Get 60-year Terms” and “Verdict Spells End for Smaldone Gang.”

Gaetano’s was the crime family’s headquarters, and the people hanging around the wood-paneled restaurant were a who’s who of the Colorado underworld.

You could find family patriarch Clyde Smaldone – “Gaetano” is the Italian equivalent of “Clyde” – seated at the bar, always at his spot furthest from the door. Clyde looked every bit the part of an Italian-American mob boss, of average height and above-average weight, dressed immaculately in expensive suits and the look punctuated by an ever-present cigar.

Besides his intellect, Clyde was known for his talent for making friends, whether it was with his neighbors, Mafia kings like Al Capone and Carlos Marcello, or Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr. Colleagues and arresting officers alike described Clyde as a gentleman.

Clyde and his younger brother Eugene, who went by Checkers, often would visit with the patrons at Gaetano’s, inquiring about the food that was in the early days prepared by their mother in the restaurant’s kitchen.

Like a good-cop, bad-cop routine, Checkers was the Smaldone with the tough-guy reputation. He had the closest ties to the feared Mafia bosses to the south in Pueblo. But Checkers wasn’t all intimidation; with a few drinks under his belt, those at the bar would hear him launch into an impromptu one-man opera performance.

In later years, Clyde and Checkers were less involved in the family’s rackets, and youngest brother Clarence, known as Chauncey, took over. Chauncey, the handsomest of the brothers, had a favorite spot at Gaetano’s at a table in the far back (Table 404 to the servers who work there today), where you’d see him eating his now-famous “Chauncey Burger” – a half-pound of ground chuck, melted mozzarella and roasted Italian peppers, served with a side of the house red sauce. The Chauncey Burger is still on the menu.

From Gaetano’s, the Smaldones ruled north Denver from the 1930s through the 1970s. But you won’t find them there anymore; the three brothers passed away over the last two decades, and the family sold Gaetano’s six years ago. Still, the place is saturated with their memory. The dining room looks the same as the last time the Smaldones remodeled in 1973, and you can sit at Clyde’s favorite barstool.

Most of the patrons are local, and many of them knew the Smaldones, says Gaetano’s general manager, Don Knowles.

“Ten out of 11 of them have nothing but great things to say about the family,” he said. People tell him that no one in the neighborhood ever went hungry, no matter how bad the times were – the Smaldones would always help out.

THAT’S THE TRICKY THING about figuring out the Smaldones. Depending on who you talk to, they were either modern-day Robin Hoods or shoot-’em-up Mafiosi straight out of a gangster flick. In reality, they were neither.

There’s no doubt that the stories about their generosity are true. Even in their heyday, when The Denver Post waged a media campaign against organized crime, the newspaper’s Roundup Magazine gave Clyde and Checkers credit for helping destitute north Denver families with milk and groceries, secretly paying college tuition for local boys, and funding Catholic orphanages.

“Each Christmas they donate quantities of athletic equipment to the homeless waifs and ‘feed ’em good’ at Gaetano’s,” the magazine wrote.

There also was a darker side to the Smaldones. No matter how you spin it, they made their money by breaking the law – first bootlegging, then running gambling rackets and loansharking. Some of the people associated with them died violently.”

By this time, not only were the Smaldones operations running at full-tilt, anyone in the Denver vicinity who wanted to get into gambling essentially had to get permission to do so from the Smaldone brothers or else.

They would use their power and intimidation to “muscle in” on many local gambling establishments including Mountain View Club and others. Informants would claim they never put in any money, but would instead muscle in and make themselves partners in the businesses. Very convenient.

One such example was later recounted to authorities by a confidential informant:

“On July 21, 1951, Confidential Informant Denver T-3 reported that for many years Clyde and Eugene Smaldone, former Denver bootleggers, had been recognized as the mobsters who dominated racketeering activities in the Denver area.

He related that during 1947, Denver gamblers Anthony Colosacco and John West opened a big barbuit game in a barn on a farm in Henderson, Colorado, owned by Joe Priola; that this undertaking was operated for only a few days when Colosacco and West received word from Clyde and Eugene Smaldone that they were to appear at a conference at the headquarters of the Smaldone’s at Gaetano’s Restaurant in North Denver; that Colosacco and West declined the invitation and refused to confer with the Smaldones and a few nights later, as West entered his automobile parked in downtown Denver, Smaldone enforcers Frank Mazza, Porky Routta, and Paul Enrichi, who long had been known as bodyguards and strong-arm men for the Smaldones, accosted West, forced him into the automobile and ordered him to drive out onto the Pecos Road outside of Denver.

Informant related that undoubtedly these men intended to kill West but the latter jumped out of the automobile as it was proceeding through downtown Denver streets, started screaming, and raised such a commotion that his assailants fled the scene.

Informant stated a few days after this incident Colosacco went to talk things over with the Smaldones in their office at Gaetano’s Restaurant and there Clyde and Eugene Smaldone told him if he and his partner desired to continue their gambling activities at Priola’s farm, it would be necessary henceforth to pay to Smaldones 50% of the gambling proceeds.

This proposal was accepted by Colosacco and gambling operations continued up until January 6, 1948, when Denver gambler Mike Falbo, aka “Fats Falbo,” was murdered near the scene of this gambling operation.

Informant described Falbo as a tough Denver hoodlum and gambler who on frequent occasions became drunk and publicly boasted that he was going out and “clean out the Smaldone’s place.” On the night of the murder, January 6, 1948, Falbo was at the Priola farm and lost $1,800 in the barbuit game in session there, whereupon he picked an argument with Eugene Smaldone who was participating in this game and berated Smaldone as a chiseler; and at the height of the argument reached out and jerked Smaldone’s hat brim down over his face. Eugene Smaldone thereupon jerked Falbo’s hat from his head, threw it on the floor, and stated, ‘Fats, you have just signed your death warrant.’”

In January of 1948, Mike “Fats” Falbo, age thirty, was found hanging out of the blood-spattered passenger-side door of his vehicle which had crashed into a roadside ditch in Adams County, which is just north of Denver, Colorado. In addition to being shot in the head three times, he’d been beaten and stabbed in the face numerous times. Though seventeen suspects were arrested including Smaldone organization members John “Porky” Routta and Frank “Blackie” Mazza, nobody was ever convicted of the slaying.

This incident just goes to show that although the brothers weren’t true “Cosa Nostra,” they allegedly weren’t afraid to whack people out when needed. Though again I’d point out that the Smaldones were never convicted of any murders, but this wouldn’t be the last time their names would be in the discussion after a gangland murder took place.

In fact, two years later in February of 1950, Falbo’s good friend Harold “Murph” Cohen, age thirty-seven, was found by two young boys under five feet of water near the shoreline of Blue Lake (now Coors Lake), which is near West 44th Avenue and McIntyre Street in rural Jefferson County. His hands and feet were secured with wire and a rope holding sixty pounds of railroad iron to his body and a large rock lashed to his midsection. And according to autopsy reports (this is where it gets truly heinous), Cohen was alive (though he may not have been conscious) when he was put into the lake. He’d been missing for three months.

The Smaldone organization was suspected, but no one was convicted in either murder.

However, the brother’s success was a double-edged sword and the empire they’d built would begin to unravel very soon after this.

The Decline of the Smaldones

In the early 1950’s, the Smaldone brothers would begin to increasingly draw the ire of authorities, and it would eventually lead to the slow downfall of their organization.

In July of 1950, the United States Senate would identify the Smaldones as well as their contemporaries as the men in control over the underworld in Colorado, shining a major national spotlight on the two gangs operating in Northern and Southern Colorado. This was of course was not good at all. That’s not the attention that you want.

Then in 1951, the Smaldones would draw the attention of two crusading law-and-order attorneys who’d just been elevated to key positions in the Colorado law enforcement space.

One of these men, a former lawyer named Charles S. Vigil, had been appointed as the U.S. District Attorney for Colorado in 1951 by President Harry Truman, who himself of course was famously mobbed up and was an acquaintance of none other than Clyde Smaldone.

And the other man was former lawyer Max Melville, who was serving as Colorado’s deputy attorney general at the time.

These two law-men, Vigil and Melville, would become part of what became known as the Colorado Crime Commission (known locally as “little Kefauver” after the infamous Kefauver hearings of the time), which Governor Dan Thornton put together in 1951. They would work together to hammer the Smaldone organization from multiple angles leveraging partnerships with federal, state, and local law enforcement.

Similar to the approach from law enforcement against Al Capone in Chicago, Vigil and Melville decided to focus on the angle of evasion of state income taxes and began working to catch the brothers and members of their organizations within that dragnet versus focusing on their more obvious crimes.

They would get their first victory in 1951 when Smaldone associates Frank “Blackie” Mazza and Paul Enrichi were convicted of evasion of state income taxes. While testifying for Mazza during this trial, Clyde Smaldone—clearly agitated (and you’re going to see that both Clyde and Checkers did not like photographers)—snapped on a Denver Post photographer taking pictures outside the courtroom, snarling the following:

“The next time you shoot my picture, I’m going to punch you in the nose.”

Lucky for Clyde, his lawyers stopped him before that incident could proceed any further (though from the information I saw Clyde had his fist cocked and ready and he was about to deck that photographer).

Now, it’s around this timeframe that he got the nickname “Flip Flop” which was created by the local press whom he’d historically disdained. And as a matter of fact, he really hated that nickname, and was never quite sure where the newspapers got it from. None of his friends dared call him that.

Now around this same time in 1951, Clyde and Eugene “Checkers” Smaldone were called before a Denver grand jury investigation on gambling (led by Melville) where as previously mentioned both men plead the Fifth over 100 times, essentially refusing to provide anything but name and address.

In early 1952, and it’s just going to keep building from here, Vigil would keep up the pressure when two law enforcement officials (so this is indirectly hitting at the Smaldones) were indicted for lying about payoffs they received to ignore gambling in their respective counties. Additionally, the issue of the Smaldone’s relationships with local politicians and police, especially in Central City were called into question.

In November of 1952, in a somewhat calculated move to irritate Clyde and Checkers, Vigil would force the Smaldone brothers to pay their $1,000 fines dating all the way back to their 1933 bootlegging convictions (almost a full 20 years later). This was kind of a petty move, but if you were looking to get under their skin, that’s a good way to do it.

But then came the legal blow that would stop the brothers in their tracks, and would lay the foundation for the long-term decline of the family’s power. It would start off, in my opinion from a legal perspective, pretty innocuously and would go in a direction that they did not expect.

On January 14, 1953, Clyde and Checkers Smaldone along with “Blackie” Mazza and Paul Enrichi would be indicted on charges of selling gambling apparatus without notifying the government, a charge which carries a two-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine. Additionally, Clyde would also get a charge of making false statements to federal agents about the number of slot machines he owned, while Checkers Smaldone (and this would end up being the big one) would be indicted on charges of failure to pay $5,000 in incomes tax in 1946 (which would be the charge that would come back to bite both brothers in the ass).

To keep up the pressure, in February of 1953, Clyde, Eugene, and 29 associates would be hauled into court over an allegedly fixed dice game at a pool hall on 7057 Federal Blvd. The government would attempt to seek conviction on charges of being habitual criminals. A witness in the case testified he was told the Smaldones would literally blow up the pool hall if he snitched about the fixed games. In the end, in this case the government wasn’t able to pin anything major on them, but they’d ultimately plead out to the simple charge of gambling, with each man paying a $150 fine and $8.81 in court costs.

Again, this is not a good look with a witness telling the public that you’re threatening to blow up a building if things don’t go your way. Not a good look.

However, as I said the pressure would keep up and in their next legal battle, and kind of unexpectedly, they wouldn’t be so lucky.

On June 2, 1953, Checkers went on trial for failure to pay $5,000 in income taxes in 1946. How, this to me sounds like a major reach when you have to go that far back. Not saying it wasn’t true, but a reach.

The trial was contentious from the get-go, with the judge accusing Checkers Smaldone of the old Mafia go-to of feigning illness when in fact he actually had to have a very real appendectomy in the middle of the trial. Ultimately the trial would be dismissed after a verdict was unable to be reached, with a new trial being scheduled for September 1953. This is where things get very bad for the brothers.

You see, as the trial was going on, there were also rumors based on testimony coming out of a federal grand jury that members of the organization had attempted to bribe jurors in Checkers’ first tax-evasion trial to which the accused would plead innocent. As a result, Checkers’ second trial was immediately postponed and Clyde Smaldone, as well as associates of the family (and actual blood family members) cousin Louis Smaldone, uncle Fiore “Fat” Smaldone, as well as associates Michael and Jerry Benallo Jr., and William “Willie” Calvaresi were all arrested on charges of conspiracy related to the testimony coming out of the grand jury.

In October of 1953, the Smaldone brothers would surprise everyone (including their co-defendants) by making what would prove the be a fateful decision to plead out to two charges of conspiracy after pleading not guilty earlier in the month. Apparently during the proceedings, both Smaldone brothers attempted to rough up some photographers after entering the Federal Building. Again, not a good look.

This was certainly a gamble, and they weren’t in the clear, as the five other co-defendants in the case still had to go on trial for 13 counts of jury-tampering, and the witness testimony didn’t come off well for the Smaldone brothers and their compatriots. Their hope was that the jury would be “fair minded,” but the reality was that the government wanted to hammer the brothers. But everything they were doing pretty much put things in a position where there was no way they would come off well in this trial.

In the end, all five defendants were found guilty of a total of 33 counts on October 30, 1953, with both Clyde and Checkers plead guilty of their 2 counts of conspiracy and then three counts each of offering bribes and obstructing justice (meaning their plea in reality didn’t work all that well for anybody).

The sentences that ultimately would be handed out for the jury tampering and conspiracy, quite honestly in my very novice legal opinion, were quite simply nothing less than shocking.

A month later, on November 23, 1953, Judge Willis W. Ritter, who was known for making some pretty eccentric and bizarre rulings over the years, went with the hammer! He sentenced both Clyde and Checkers Smaldone to an astonishing 60 years in prison, which at their age at the time was essentially a life sentence! Talk about being about as harsh as you could be in sentencing them well above or right at the top of the maximum guidelines.

Papers at the time would laud the victory, but would also notate—and this is important—a rift between the judge in the case and law enforcement (specifically federal law enforcement), with the Greeley Daily Tribune relating the following:

Two Smaldones Each Given 60-Year Terms
Judge Denounces U.S. Attorney General and FBI for Laxity in Investigation of Jury Tampering

Denver, Colorado—The gambling Smaldone brothers — Eugene and Clyde — were each sentenced to 60 years in federal prison Monday by U.S. Judge Willis W. Ritter.

They had been convicted of a charge of jury tampering.

In pronouncing sentences Judge Ritter charged that the U.S. attorney general and Federal Bureau of Investigation had refused to assist in the jury tampering investigation which smashed the Smaldone gang.

Cracks at Dept. of Justice
‘I don’t understand why the Department of Justice, which is charged with law enforcement, should refuse to assist in the investigation of jury tampering in the Smaldone cases—but they did’ Judge Ritter said.

‘Only through the efforts of the Treasury Department and the use of their agents was the investigation carried on to a successful conclusion. At the point where the inquiry began about jury tampering, the attorney general of the United States advised the U.S. attorney for Colorado that the FBI would not participate in the investigation.’

3 Others Get Shorter Terms
Three fellow defendants of the Smaldones drew lighter sentences. William Calvaresi, Dupont tavern operator and Jerry Benallo, Jr., were sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment each, and Michael Bonnalo of Wheat Ridge to 10 years.

Clyde Smaldone, as he was hustled into a U.S. marshal’s van for the return trip to the county jail, yelled an epithet at a Denver Post photographer.

His brother lighted a cigar as officers led him handcuffed from the court room and sent up clouds of smoke.

Wives of the Smaldone brothers fought back tears as they talked to their husbands through bars of the detention cell.

Federal agents said the heavy sentences levied against the brothers brought to an end a gambling empire which at one time grossed millions of dollars in slot machines, racetrack betting and other illegal operations.”

Now you would think that the brother’s story would end there, but it seems they had a bit of luck on their sides.

Thirteen months after they went away, Judge Ritter’s decision would be thrown out after the sentences would be ruled as excessive by the US Supreme Court. Remember, I mentioned that there was certainly a rift, and that rift proved to be the lucky thing that helped the brothers get a second trial. The brothers would receive a new trial.

At this trial, Clyde and Eugene plead guilty to lesser tampering charges and on August 20, 1955 were re-sentenced to just 12 years in prison and a $10,000 fine (so still a lot of time but not as bad as the 60-year sentence they’d been stuck with). Even with the reduction in prison time and the fine, the brothers still felt as if they’d been double-crossed by the legal system and would maintain over the years that they had not participated in any jury tampering of any kind, especially Clyde.

So ultimately, Eugene’s simple issue with back-taxes of $5,000, would turn itself into first the ridiculous sentence of 60 years, but finally the 12 years and a $10,000 sentence. Of course hindsight is 20:20, but I bet he really wished he’d just paid his tax given all the trouble it caused.

After this final resolution of the case, the pair would do their second stints at USP Leavenworth. However, at this point the damage was done as the two brothers, who’d built the empire together would eventually have a falling out over the situation.

The pair would do around 9 ½ of their 12 year sentence and would be released in 1962. Clyde was never able to forgive his younger brother, whose fault it was that they wound up in prison. He would say the following in an interview later in his life:

“We went to jail, that beloved brother of mine, Checkers. I spent my money and I asked him to pay me the money I spent. I done nine and a half years of my life for him. He won’t pay me the money he owes me. If you call that a good brother…And not only me. The other six, seven guys that tried to help him—some of them had to hock their house, some of them lost business, lost their jobs, and to this day he’s never given one of them guys a quarter. Like he didn’t me, and I was his brother. A lot of times I got to thinking, because I wasn’t guilty of really, really being involved…with my brother [Checkers]. I shouldn’t have even tried to help him because he’s a no good S.O.B.”

With Clyde and Checkers away, the family needed someone to step up in order for them to maintain their grip over Denver’s underworld.

Enter the youngest brother, Clarence “Chauncey” Smaldone. Chauncey, as his friends and family called him, was born on February 8, 1924, and was the youngest of the eleven children born to Raffaele and Mamie Smaldone. He would be the sixth boy in the family, and was almost a full two decades younger than his oldest brother and family leader, Clyde.

According to Smaldone: The Untold Story of an American Crime Family, Chauncey was dead-on the best looking of the brothers, was much taller than his siblings (six feet), and was blessed with a full head of wavy hair and piercing dark eyes, which got him quite a bit of attention from the young Italian girls in his neighborhood. He was said to have bore a striking resemblance to a young Dean Martin.

As a young child Chaucey roamed the neighborhoods in North Denver with another young Italian youth named Paulie Villano, who was in fact his cousin despite only a four year age difference. These two young lads were nearly inseparable, with the Villano family living just a few houses down the street from the Smaldone family.

Chauncey would go on to serve in the army during World War II, serving time in the South Pacific theater. After the war, he returned to Denver and moved with his wife and 2 children into an apartment directly above Gaetano’s, beginning work first at a filling station that he and Paulie Villano owned at West 46th Avenue and Pecos Street.

Occasionally, Chauncey would work the bar at Gaetano’s, and his nephew Paulie would eventually find his forte, running the restaurant for the family.

Now let’s talk about Paulie for just a moment. He would definitely become an important member of the family as well. Paul Clyde Villano, who came to be known as “Fat” Paulie—sidenote (and I say this facetiously), mob nicknames have zero time for gangsters with body image issues—was born in 1928 to the eldest Smaldone sister, Corrine.

Friends would recall him as a terrific tap-dancer in his youth, and he would become a champion gymnast in high school, as well as a scholarship athlete at the University of Colorado, though he would put on the weight that gave him his nickname in later years.

Paulie, who never married and remained a bachelor his entire life, was said to be a ladies man, and was always up for a good time, regularly spending freely on alcohol, beautiful women, and taking frequent trips to Vegas to partake in all of those things.

Like his uncle Clyde, Paulie had a gift for story-telling, was generally considered to be charming, and loved pranks. Outside of being a general party animal, Paulie was also known to be both smart and educated, able to talk about subjects that would go over the heads of many other toughs who entered ‘the life’ as they say.

In the relationship between Chauncey and Paulie, it was often said that the latter had the brains so to speak.

And so iIt wasn’t long after the war before both Chauncey and Paulie joined Clyde and Checkers Smaldone in the family business so to speak, getting deep into gambling and sports parlay cards.

In 1956, at age 32, Chauncey would be arrested for the first time on a gambling charge when he and seven others were busted at a house on 3357 Navajo Street for running an illegal barbooth game. This wouldn’t be his last arrest as he’d continue to ring up gambling pinches (and acquittals) throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, though he would do a few stints in prison and pay some fines here and there (and pay some fines). He’d really be kind of in and out from this point without really doing too much major time during the 60’s and the 70’s.

Paulie, in addition to running Gaetano’s, would also get into bookmaking, where his reputation was flawless, meaning that when he won he collected, but when he lost he paid pretty quickly. Of course that made it pretty easy for customers to trust him.

With Checkers and Clyde gone, it was Chauncey and Paulie who ran the family’s operations, and it was generally understood in the Denver underworld that they were in charge, and they did their best to hold things together for the family until the older brothers got out of prison.

These two would begin to shift the organization’s focus away from dice gaming, and more towards parlay betting cards focused on baseball, college basketball, as well as football as the popularity of those sports grew (making it a really important and growing revenue stream at the time). The pair would do business with small-time gamblers, but would also be able to work with higher-stakes players as well.

All of these enterprises also played well into their other stream of income, which of course was loan-sharking (a service that goes hand in hand with nearly any gambling enterprise), and the duo would have a lot of “money on the street” as they say in the underworld, which would pull in fairly good revenue for the Smaldone organization.

In 1959, informants would indicate that Chauncey, along with Paulie Villano, and Joe “The Ram” Salardino (great nickname by the way) were essentially fleecing Denver business men out of thousands of dollars at a gambling club known as the Thorn Lake Club, located in Glipin County, Colorado. The club featured roulette, blackjack, and crap games. As a result of this information making its way out, the authorities were able to conduct successful raids on the club leading the the arrest of Clarence Smaldone, Villano, and Salardino.

Again, this wouldn’t be the last time they would be arrested.

Fast-forward to November of 1962, Clyde and Checkers Smaldone would get out of prison after serving 9 ½ of their 12 year sentence. By this point in time, the brothers had their falling out, and the 40 year partnership was more or less over. Though they were never in conflict, the relationship would never quite be the same.

Upon leaving prison, Clyde, ever the shrewdest brother of the bunch, saw which way the wind was blowing and made his move to “retire” from active family participation. This is why I referred to him as a Frank Costello-esque figure earlier on in the episode. The two men were very similar.

Now there were different circumstances, but Frank also saw which way the wind was blowing (after he was nearly assassinated) and knew it was time for him to move on. If you consider the fact that in the 60’s you had the Kennedy administration, you eventually had Joe Valachi, more visibility, the FBI beginning to take Cosa Nostra and the mobs more seriously, it was a good time to cut your losses and get out.

While the brothers were in prison, the 1957 Apalachin raid had occurred along with many congressional hearings on organized crime, and law-enforcement scrutiny was significantly ratcheting up with the Kenneddy administration leading governmental efforts to take down the mob across the country. And though they weren’t true Cosa Nostra, the Smaldones by that time certainly qualified as a mob-style enterprise. So in Colorado, they were target #1 to take down.

Clyde, by this time nearing 60 years of age, quickly recognized the fact that the law enforcement landscape had changed, and the FBI in cooperation with local police were cracking down on interstate gambling and devoting more resources to fighting organized crime. Wiretaps were becoming far more common, and crimes that had previously resulted in 90-day jail sentences and light sentences were more often than not leading to several years in federal prison.

Clyde’s son Gene would recall the following about his father years after the fact:

“My dad was smart. He used to tell Chauncey and Paulie. He told them, ‘They [the police] are setting you up. They know what you guys are doing.’ They wouldn’t listen to Dad, partly because he was drinking and partly because they didn’t want to. He didn’t have as much control anymore.”

Even with the revelation on Clyde’s part, he wasn’t all out right away. In October of 1967, Clyde and several of his associates, including Eugene’s son, were arrested on gambling charges for running a $100,000-a-week bookmaking operation (that is a whopping $1.1MM in today’s which means the operation was taking $52-53MM in revenue annually).

While the group was doing 6 months in jail for the charges, there were reports that came out in the Rocky Mountain News before the Smaldones were released on bond claiming their prison time was hardly hard time: “various reports claimed they were being allowed the run of the jail, had a deputy sheriff preparing hot sandwiches for them on request and were using a jail telephone to make calls.”

Now as I mentioned above, after his semi-retirement Clyde’s drinking would become pretty problematic so much so that his sons would put him in alcohol rehabilitation on several occasions throughout the rest of his life until he was finally able to kick the habit (which wouldn’t happen until much later in his life). So at this point in time in the 1960’s, it’s a growing area of concern.

Clyde’s alcoholism along with the fact that many in the family weren’t ready to believe that their hey-dey had indeed passed essentially led to a changing of the guard as he became more distant from the Smaldone organization and his opinions tended to be listened to less often.

This development essentially made 53-year-old Eugene “Checkers” Smadlone the new de facto leader of the Smaldone family. Checkers was clearly the most pugnacious and probably the biggest gangster of the three brothers, but by this time he was no longer the dominating figure he’d once been before going away to prison.

As for Chauncey and Paulie, they also ignored Clyde’s warning. After all, at ages 39 and 35, it was probably too late to choose another career.

Checkers Smaldone’s time at the top would not go without bloodshed, and it’s around this time the Smaldone family will run into another legal problem, this time in relation to Eugene’s son.

In August of 1962, Eugene’s son, who was also named Eugene, was arrested and charged with Interstate Transportation in aid of racketeering in connection with his bookmaking activities. Now, I won’t get too far into it, but the younger Eugene was in severe disfavor with the entire rest of the family for his drug use, and also for tossing around the family name to get his way so to speak in underworld dealings. This was a real case of nepotism. If you’re familiar with the Sopranos, think of Jackie Aprile Jr. playing the gangster. Others in the family tried to warn Checkers, but of course the father had a major blind spot for the dealings of his son, a fact which rankled many in the organization. It was nepotism at its finest.

Aside from the charges, the bigger issue for the Smaldones was that the younger Smaldone was arrested with a local hood and mob novice named Robin Roberts, who was known in the street as “Walkie Talkie” for his habit of being a compulsive talker, loud-mouth, and a person who generally liked to horn in on people’s conversations.

At that time, “Walkie Talkie” had been developing quite a bad reputation for himself. A small-time gambler of modest means, Roberts had registered several arrests for gambling as well as extortion. In addition, he was known as a man who regularly failed to pay his gambling debts.

For someone trying to rise in the underworld, these are not the things you want to be known for, and by themselves could lead a person into big trouble with the mob. But “Walkie Talkie” had another problem (and even bigger problem). He was rumored to be a confidential informant.

Now unfortunately during the trial in which both he [“Walkie Talkie”] and Eugene Smaldone were co-defendants, his fate would be sealed when Denver Detective Duane “Red” Borden, an organized-crime investigator who’d essentially dogged the Smaldones for years, took the stand to testify and was forced to reveal and confirm that Roberts was in fact his informant. Eugene Smaldone would plead guilty and would do a year in prison as a result.

Retired Denver police captain Jerry Kennedy would later recall running into Roberts, who knew he had a major problem, just days after the devastating revelation:

“I ran into Walkie a day or two later in that Theater Bar on Sixteenth and Glenarm, doing a routine check, and I said, ‘How you doing, Walkie?’

He says, ‘Hey, Kennedy, they’re going to kill me.’

I said, ‘Walkie, they’re not going to kill you.’

He says, ‘Hey, I’m telling you, Borden named me on the stand. They’re going to kill me.’

(Kennedy offered Roberts protection, which he declined)

“By God, within twenty-four hours they found this guy’s body. My heart sunk into my stomach.”

On August 7, 1963, the body of Robin “Walkie Talkie” Roberts, was found murdered and lying in a ditch in a fairly well-to-do subdivision in Denver. He had been severely beaten, then shot four times in the right side of the body.

Members of the Smaldone mob including both Clyde and Checkers were arrested and questioned in the murder, but authorities ultimately focused on a St. Louis hood named Sam Shanks, an associate of both the Smaldone family as well as the St. Louis Cosa Nostra family, who they believed had been imported to whack out Roberts. However, when it went to trial, the evidence against Shanks was pretty shaky and he was ultimately acquitted in 1964.

The arresting officer related the following about the murder:

“It had been widely rumored in gambling circles that the Smaldones believed that Robbins had furnished information to police authorities concerning the bookmaking activities of Eugene Lois Smaldone which had ultimately led to his conviction on Federal Gambling Charges, and that “Checkers” Smaldone was reported to have been furious at Robbins because of this.”

“On August 13, 1963, Captain Hindes reported that Sam Shanks had been charged with the murder of Robert Robbins and was being held without bail in the Jefferson County Jail pending trial in District Court, Golden, Colorado. He stated that Robert Shanks had established an alibi placing him in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, at the time the murder was committed, but that he had been charged as an accessory after the fact.”

“On August 16, 1963, Eugene “Checkers” Smaldone, Clyde George Smaldone, Michael Anthony Tomeo and Joseph Salardino were picked up in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for questioning in the Robbins’ murder case.”

“Captain John Hindes of the Denver Police Department stated that all of these suspects refused to answer any questions concerning the murder.”

As mentioned, the Smaldones would be in and out of court, cited for contempt, but would skate free of any charges related to the “Walkie Talkie” homicide.

So they’d dodge that bullet so to speak, but the full court press from law enforcement would persist. Get ready, because they’d spend a lot of time in and out of court from the 1960’s on.

In July of 1965, Clarence Smaldone and several associates would be handed 4-month sentences for contempt for refusing to answer the questions of a Jefferson County grand jury.

In November of 1965, Checkers Smaldone and his son Eugene would be arrested after a raid found evidence that over $100,000 worth of bets on college football had been placed with them in the previous week.

In January of 1966, Chauncey was again arrested as one of 20-28 people brought it and charged with gambling, along with cousin Paul Villano and associate Joseph “The Ram” Salardino. Each of the men were sentenced to 180 days in jail. During the arrest, Chauncey would be found to have $1,535 on his person, which was confiscated by authorities for back taxes owed. So that’s pretty convenient.

In October of 1967, (again it just continues) Clarence and Clyde were again arrested again for their part in a $100,000 bookmaking enterprise. Clarence was sentenced to 90 days while Clyde’s charges were dismissed.

By this time, it was regularly noted by the FBI that the “semi-retired” Clyde and Checkers were feuding, which certainly didn’t help the family operations in their efforts to present a united front to combat the increased law enforcement scrutiny that they were facing. It’s easier to take them down from a law enforcement perspective when they’re divided.

To keep up the pressure, in July of 1968, the Colorado Racing Commission issued an order banning 12 persons including Clyde, Checkers, and Chauncey Smaldone from all dog tracks and the 2 horse tracks operating in Colorado at the time.

By the 1970s, the family struggled with independent bookmakers who, at this point in time given that they’re starting to lose ground, no longer recognized the Smaldones as in control of all gambling in Denver.

In April of 1970, Checkers Smaldone and Joe “The Ram” Salardino would be arrested and indicted by a grand jury and charged with assault to murder, assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy. This all stemmed from an issue in which a man named Joseph Nucci, was shot and wounded (although not fatally). This was an argument and a dispute between Joseph Nucci and Checkers that pretty much went from shouting to shooting really, really quickly. Smaldone’s bond would be set at $500,000 while Salardino’s was set at $300,000.

The brothers would go on to be arrested several more times, and I am not going to bore you any more than I already have by going through each and every incident, because it’s honestly exhausting even to me.

But on July 5, 1973 there was another incident in the sphere of the Smaldone organization, and this incident would touch off a period of violence in Denver. The issue wasn’t with the Smaldone’s directly. The issue was with Chauncey’s ex-wife Pauline.

Chauncey’s ex-wife Pauline, in an almost hard to fathom event, was shot twice in her driveway by an unknown assailant who escaped with a getaway driver. So that was a hit. That wasn’t just a random thing, it was a hit. Of course, the obvious point here is that family members of mob figures are typically considered off-limits, making this shooting a major breach of typical protocol.

Three weeks later, (again this happened quick and it was violent) a handsome former football star at the University of Colorado was found shotgunned to death in his front driveway just a few blocks away from Chauncey Smaldone’s Lakewood home. This man’s name was John “Skip” LaGuardia.

Despite being a fairly well-liked young man with a lot of potential, it’s been speculated that he was trying to “muscle in” on the Denver gambling scene as a bookmaker and had allegedly run afoul of someone senior within the Denver underworld, allegedly calling that person an “old man” and saying “I don’t need you anymore.” People in the know have speculated over the years that the old man was none other than Checkers Smaldone—not somebody you want to piss off. Other accounts have speculated that there actually may have even been a confrontation in which LaGuardia slapped Smaldone, a big mistake.

So on July 26, 1973, LaGuardia was driving home from the Alpine Inn, a hangout for gamblers and other underworld figures at 3551 Tejon Street. According to reports, he pulled into his driveway, exited his vehicle, and began walking up the driveway to his house. It was at this point when someone lying in wait stepped out from behind bushes and shot him directly in the face with a blast from a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun. The assassin would leave the gun beside the body (and the weapon was found to have the serial number filed off), which left the police investigating the murder to call it a “professional job,” going on to say the following:

“Let’s put it this way. They knew what they were doing. A gun like this can only be used to kill someone.”

A man named Ralph Pizzalato, a close friend of LaGaurdia’s who was allegedly present during the altercation with Checkers Smaldone that resulted in the death contract on his pal, was actually rumored to have been the shooter in this case. If this is indeed true, it would certainly fit with the mob tradition of ordering a friend to kill a friend. Whether that’s the case or not, Pizzalata’s time was numbered as well.

On January 29, 1974, just six months after LaGaurdia was hit, Pizzalato was found murdered as well. His body would be discovered in the backseat of his Cadillac in a lot behind the same Alpine Inn that LaGuardia had just left (six months earlier). Police observed that the body, left in the fetal position, showed signs of strangulation as well as a gunshot wound to the face.

Now, based on information from police sources shared with writers at the Denver Post, it was insinuated that the two murders were connected with both the attempt on the life of Pauline Smaldone, as well as the attempt by the pair to muscle in on Denver bookmaking and gambling rackets. So those things were all connected together, and so was the hit on Pauline for that matter.

As with every other murder where the Smaldones were suspected, the two hits would never be solved. But one thing was clear, even though the family and the entire Smaldone empire was in decline by this time, it was clear that the brothers still had teeth so to speak. They weren’t afraid to push a button on anyone who got out of line.

But by this point, as Clyde had predicted in the early 1960’s, law enforcement would launch a full-court press to take the family down. Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, the trio (Checkers, Chauncey, and Paulie Villano) would continue to rack up dozens of gambling arrests, and the heat from law enforcement would stay pretty much with them through the remainder of their lives.

Fast-forward to August of 1981, the FBI would finally land a serious blow to the Smaldones, when a bug they’d planted in a back office in Gaetano’s picked up a conversation between “Fat” Paulie Villano, Checkers Smaldone, and an associate in which they were discussing the inner-workings of a silencer.

This would give the Feds the impetus they needed to launch a series of raids in Denver and Pueblo in which they’d confiscate the silencer, a .30-caliber carbine, twenty-seven stacks of ammunition, four handguns, $50,000 in cash and a treasure trove of valuable documents.

No pun intended, but this bust would give authorities all the ammo that they would need to convict Checkers Smaldone, Chauncey Smaldone, as well as Paulie Villano on charges of loan-sharking, income-tax evasion, as well as firearms violations.

All three would be sentenced to 10 year prison terms which at their advancing age was akin to a life sentence. Most predicted that the men, especially Checkers, would likely die behind bars.

The three men would serve their time at FMC Fort Worth (the medical center) prison in Texas.

Now putting everything in proper context, I think it’s accurate to say that by the 1980’s the power of the Smaldone organization was much less significant, especially after this prison sentence of the family administration.

With no new members being actively recruited to continue the family, the family really had nobody to pass the mantle to in order to keep things going. By the 1990’s the Smaldone family as it was constituted in its heyday was nearing the end.

The first of the trio of brothers who’d built the family would pass away in the early 90’s when Eugene “Checkers” Smaldone died of a heart attack at the age of 81 on March 10, 1992. He would be buried at the Crown Hill Cemetery in Jefferson County, Colorado.

It’s at this point that Clarence “Chauncey” Smaldone takes over leadership of what was left of the Smaldone family, but by that point it was a shell of its former power.

On January 7, 1998, the original leader and family patriarch Clyde Smaldone, the man who had his first brush with the law in 1920, who’d become friends with presidents and mobsters, and who’d spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers as well as charitable endeavors, passed away at the age of 91. He is also buried at the Crown Hill Cemetery in Jefferson County.

This really only left Chauncey and Paulie, but by this point Chauncey was dealing with severe dementia, though he continued to frequent Gaetano’s even after the family had given up ownership of the restaurant.

After getting out of prison back in 1991, Paulie returned to Denver and kept a low profile, dying in 2003 at the age of seventy-six.

And on October 16, 2006, the final member of the Smaldone organization passed away when Clarence “Chauncey” Smaldone died in hospice at the age of 82. He is buried in Mount Olivet Catholic Cemetery in Jefferson County, Colorado.

His family members refused to provide any specifics about his death and declined to comment when contacted by the Rocky Mountain News. By this point, they simply wanted to be left alone.

And with Chauncey’s death, the Smaldone Crime Family, which had reached the pinnacle in the Colorado underworld in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, essentially came to a quiet and fairly unspectacular end. With that, the family appears to be essentially defunct, although there have been some unsubstantiated rumors that there are still a handful of family members still operating various rackets.

Retired Police Capt. Tom Lahey, who grew up a block from Gaetano’s, said the following about the Smaldone’s and based upon my research the sentiment rings true:

“They did a lot of good in north Denver. They used to send food and coal to a woman whose husband had left her with small children. In their own way, they were gentlemen.”

That being said, it’s also clear in my research that they had a bad side. They did do some bad things. But I wanted every one of my listeners to see that with many in the life, everything isn’t black and white, good guys and bad guys, cowboys and indians. There are many shades of gray, and I think the Smaldones fit that mold.

Like most other mobsters of their era, they did what they had to do early on to survive and prosper, and grew their empire in the American way, just not on the right side of the law. And I think it’s fair to say that their legacy contains with both good as well as bad.

Now before we move on and briefly talk about the Pueblo LCN, here are a few other “members” of the Smaldone organization present on the infamous family chart that we really didn’t touch on too heavily during the episode:

  • Anthony “Tony” Smaldone: Brother and family leader
    Ralph A. Smaldone: Brother and family leader
    Joe “The Ram” Salardino: Family leader
    Gerald “Jerry” Losasso: Family leader
    Frank “Blackie” Mazza: Key lieutenant and enforcer
    Eugene “Young Gene” Smaldone: Son of Checkers and lieutenant, a family pariah for his known drug use
    Michael “M.T.” Tomeo: Key lieutenant
    Fiore “Fat” Smaldone: Uncle and family member
    Joseph “Joe” Cefalu: Family member
    Louis “Bert” Capra: Family member
    Michael “Roxie” Villano: Family member
    Allen “A.D.” Miller: Family member
    Paul Enrichi: Family member and enforcer
    John “Porky” Routta: Family member and enforcer
  • Now, there were certainly other members, but I won’t bore you by going through every single one. Okay, let’s quickly touch on the Pueblo LCN before we close the episode.

The Pueblo Mafia

Okay, we’re not going to spend a significant amount of time on the Pueblo faction of the Colorado mob, but what I will say is that according to my research the true “Mafia” in Colorado was the group in Pueblo—meaning that this family was recognized as LCN by the Commission in New York and as such used the same rules, structures, etc. as other LCN families.

That being said, based on my research and observations, it definitely appeared that the Smaldone organization in Denver was the more significant of the two groups, despite not being a true Mafia family. If you think about it, it makes sense.

The population of Denver between around 1940 was approximately 322,000 according to census records (up from ~288,000 in 1930), whereas the population of Pueblo was a meer 52,000 people (up from 50,000 in 1930). So not only did Denver have the largest population in the state, it was growing at a faster rate. So anyone who controlled Denver—which was the Smaldones—was in the driver’s seat in the Colorado underworld.

That’s not to say that the two groups came into conflict. In fact, after the murder of Joe Roma in 1933, the Smaldones and the Pueblo LCN worked close together and relatively harmoniously until the group in Pueblo became defunct in the 1970’s.

The relationship was based on friendships, and the Smaldones needed someone to handle the operations in Southern Colorado, so they turned to their trusted friends in Pueblo.

So let’s talk about some of the key players.

Calogero “Charles” (or “Charley”) Blanda

The mantle of “Boss” of the Pueblo Crime Family first passed to Charley Blanda after the murder of Giuseppe “Joe” Roma.

Charley Blanda was born in Ames, Iowa in 1899, but at some point would move to Colorado where he would reside permanently.

According to sources, Charley didn’t have the look of a mobster (he wore large thick glasses), but had a stout build standing just 5’5” and weighing close to 200lbs, and a long arrest record that included pinches for burglary, grand larceny, and weapons violations and did jail-time on several occasions.

In the 1950’s, he’d be identified as one of the top leaders in the Colorado Mafia, and in 1953 he’d do 3 years after an income-tax evasion conviction.

Over the years, he’d work with the Smaldones and members of his family to maintain a tight grip over underworld rackets including gambling, narcotics distribution, illegal alcohol sales, as well as rackets related to juke-box and coin-machines.

Clyde Smaldone was said to have related the following about Blanda:

“Charley Blanda was kind of the big guy in Pueblo.”

Blanda and Smaldone were so close in fact, that Blanda was the godfather to Smaldone’s son.

He would run the Pueblo family as “Boss” from 1933 until roughly 1953 when he would pass the mantle to Vincenzo “Black Jim” Coletti before going away to prison.

Blanda died on February 20, 1969 in Pueblo, Colorado after suffering a stroke.

Vincenzo “Black Jim” Coletti (also known as James)

Blanda’s immediate successor as “Boss” was his trusted aide, Vincenzo James Coletti, called “Black Jim” for his dark complexion and coal-black eyes.

Colletti was born in Lucca Sicula, Sicily, Italy in 1897. He would immigrate to New York City and ring up several arrests in the New York and New Jersey area before moving west and settling in Pueblo, Colorado, though he’d become a naturalized citizen in February of 1920 while still residing in New York.

Once in Pueblo, Coletti would immediately become a part of the underworld due to his familial relationship with the infamous Carlino brothers (he was their cousin) who controlled much of Colorado at the time.

Coletti would open a club, called Club Melody, in the 1940’s, but outside his mob rackets he would become most known as a prominent member of the cheese industry, and was partners in the Colorado Cheese Company with none other than Joe Bonnano, who’d taken up residence in nearby Arizona in the 1940’s.

As previously mentioned, Coletti took over as “Boss” of the Pueblo family in 1953 after previous boss Charlie Blanda was sent to prison and later retired from organized crime.

Coletti was known for keeping a pretty low profile and confined his gambling, narcotics trafficking and racketeering activities to Southern Colorado, leaving Denver to the Smaldones. He was also a liquor store and bar owner.

But his low profile would change as in 1957, Colletti attended the ill fated Apalachin Conference in upstate New York and was one of the men that was arrested in the subsequent raid, outing him nationally as a mobster.

Up until the Apalachin fiasco, Colletti had only minor arrests such as for drunkenness, vagrancy and disorderly conduct. And though he wouldn’t do any time as a result, the Apalachin arrest would be the one to raise his profile so much so that in a Life Magazine article in 1967 he was named as the boss of Colorado.

In his later years, Coletti operated the Sante Fe Market, a small cheese, fruit, and vegetable stand in Pueblo, as well as the Holiday Inn, a restaurant and tavern, with his wife. Rather than continue the life of a hardcore mobster, he preferred to take in the sun outside his cheese store and greet the occasional well wisher

He retired from the family in 1972, and thereby passed the mantle of “Boss” to Joseph “Scotty” Spinuzzi.

Coletti died of natural causes in 1975.

Joseph “Scotty” Spinuzzi

Joseph James “Scotty” Spinuzzi is the last of the Pueblo mobsters that I’ll cover, and in my opinion the biggest gangster of the bunch in terms of his reputation. When Coletti retired, the title of “Boss” went to Spinuzzi.

Spinuzzi was born in 1907 in Napoleonville, Assumption Parish, Louisiana. At some point, he made his way to Pueblo, Colorado. Spinuzzi reputedly preferred to stay low-profile, but his colorful personality and a fiery temper, which would make staying low-profile pretty challenging. Spinuzzi was considered a handsome man, approximately five-foot-eight-inches tall with dark, curly hair, dark brown eyes.

John J. Kincilja Jr., who was a Pueblo police officer from 1960 to 1997, would say the following about Spinuzzi:

“[Scotty] was plain old mafioso. Scotty was a mean devil. He was mean. [He] was a good sized man. He’d Sunday punch you, but he could stand up and fist fight you too. He got to be low-key [later in life], but this guy used to get in fights, he’d pistol-whip people.”

He first came to national prominence when mentioned as a mob figure in the Kefauver Hearings in the early 1950’s. Earlier bosses Blanda and Coletti reputedly found it difficult to keep Scotty under control and felt he brought unwanted publicity to the Colorado organization.

Spinuzzi would become involved in a vending-machine business and would also own a bar (Turks Tavern) with his brother, Tony “Turk” Spinuzzi. As you might expect with a man of his temperament, he would have a long history of problems with law enforcement, being charged for bootlegging, extortion in Las Vegas, burglary, theft, counterfeiting, income tax evasion, as well as numerous counts of gambling and bookmaking.

He and his brother Tony would be swept up in 1951 on charges of—you guessed it—federal income tax evasion for failing to pay $10,140 in income tax in 1945. The feds would confiscate Turks Tavern, both men’s bank accounts, Tony’s 1951 Oldsmobile, and Scotty’s 1950 Cadillac, but both men would pay fines and avoid jail time.

Spinuzzi was very close with Eugine “Checkers” Smaldone, and the two would reportedly attend various gambling events together (along with Charley Blanda) to make shylock loans to participants who’d been on the losing end.

As previously mentioned, Spinuzzi along with his boss at the time Coletti, was picked up at the 1957 mob summit in Apalachin though no charges would ultimately stick. You’d think that’d be the most notorious incident of Spinnizi’s mob career, but it certainly wasn’t.

In 1960, Spinuzzi would be accused of murdering an African American pianist named James Scott outside a Pueblo nightclub that Spinuzzi co-owned with Joe “The Ram” Salardino. He would go to trial in 1962.

According to documentation I found relating to the People vs. Spinuzzi in 1962, the circumstances of the shooting as communicated in court were as follows:

“The deceased was a musician employed at the Five Queens Club in Pueblo, Colorado. On the night of September 15, 1960, some of his friends came to his place of employment and an argument began between the friends of the deceased and a bartender at the club over 25¢ which the deceased’s friends had put in the juke box. The deceased became involved in the argument. Thereafter the deceased and his friends were pushed from the club by one Ricci and one Parlato who was the manager of the club. Outside the club, Ricci and Parlato on the one hand and the deceased on the other hand engaged in a fight. They were separated by one Watson and the fight terminated.

At this time, the defendant Spinuzzi, who had been sitting in the club with Ricci and Parlato earlier in the evening, came upon the scene outside the club. Using vile language, he ordered decedent’s friends from the premises and threatened to “blow their brains out.” The deceased’s friends left and Spinuzzi then proceeded toward the decedent, exchanged words with him, held a pistol about two feet from his head and then hit and viciously kicked him. Spinuzzi and the deceased wrestled toward the back of a station wagon parked in the area. At this point the decedent fell backward with his head back and his hand in front of his face. Spinuzzi was on top of him as he was falling. A shot was heard. Spinuzzi arose from the body of the deceased with a gun in his hand, put the gun in his belt and walked away. The decedent lay on the ground mortally wounded.

The autopsy revealed a bullet hole in the palm of the hand of the deceased and another in the left nostril with the bullet lodged in the brain. There were powder burns on the deceased’s hand where the bullet had gone through. The bullet traveled in an upward direction from its entrance in the deceased’s hand to its final resting place in his brain.”

Spinuzzi would ultimately be found ‘Not Guilty’ due to insufficient evidence and would skate free of any prison time.

He was arrested for gambling a few more times in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and would become “Boss” in 1973. However, his reign would be relatively short.

In 1974, he’d get a 1-year sentence for gambling, and that same year the federal government would contend that he, along with Joe Bonnano, were conspiring to take over all of organized crime in Colorado. But those plans would never come to fruition as he died of natural causes on September 5, 1975 (just two months after Coletti).

And with the deaths of Coletti and Spinuzzi, the influence of the Cosa Nostra in Pueblo faded, and that faction of the national LCN went defunct as well.

Final Thoughts & Closing

Okay, that’s it for this episode! It certainly was a long episode, but again something that I found to be a very interesting and compelling story that I really want to share with my channel.

If you want to read more on the Colorado mob, I have two books that I highly recommend.

First, go get Colorado’s Carlino Brothers: A Bootlegging Empire by Sam Carlino, who is in fact the grandson of the infamous Pete Carlino and great nephew of Sam Carlino who helped build the Carlino bootlegging empire and who was in fact murdered in 1933.

The other book I’d recommend (which I cited several times this episode) would be Smaldone: The Untold Story of An American Crime Family by Dick Kreck with foreward from Chuck and Gene Smaldone.

In addition to my other sources, I leveraged these books heavily and they are both pretty good reads about a family that is largely unknown to many around the country.

Anyhow, coming up next, we’re going to be digging into maybe a biography, and then as promised previously I am going back into a family history to cover the little-known Cerrito family out of California.

My goal will be to tell the entire history of those families so that people get a glimpse of what the Mafia was like outside the primary hubs of New York and Chicago. Hopefully that will be of interest to viewers since other families aren’t talked about nearly as often.

After that, we’ll likely get back to some biographies, but my goal is to continue to mix things up.

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.

Until next time, gratzie!

Books & Other Sources

  • Carlino, Sam. Colorado’s Carlino Brothers: A Bootlegging Empire. The History Press. 2019.
  • Kreck, Dick. Smaldone: The Untold Story of an American Crime Family. Chicago Review Press – Fulcrum. 2010.

Online Sources

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.