July 4, 1905 |
Esperia, Frosinone, Italy
August 9, 1976 (aged 71) |
Dumfoundling Bay, Florida
|Alias(es)||John F. Stewart|
John "Handsome Johnny" Roselli (born Filippo Sacco; July 4, 1905 – August 9, 1976), sometimes spelled John Rosselli, was an influential mobster for the Chicago Outfit who helped them control Hollywood and the Las Vegas Strip.
Roselli was also involved with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) plot to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the early 1960s. Some conspiracy theorists believe he was also involved with John Fitzgerald Kennedy's assassination in 1963.
Early years[edit | edit source]
Born Filippo Sacco (sometimes spelled Phillippo) in Esperia, Frosinone, Italy on July 4, 1905. His father, Vincenzo Sacco, moved on his own to the United States. Roselli immigrated with his mother, Mariantonia Pascale Sacco and one Caterina Palazzo, to Somerville, Massachusetts, near Boston, in 1911.
In 1922, Roselli committed a murder and fled to Chicago changing his name from Filippo Sacco to John Roselli. The new name was in honor of Italian Renaissance sculptor Cosimo Rosselli. He became a member of the Chicago Outfit and was known by his mob nickname of "Handsome Johnny."
The exact date and reason for Roselli moving to Los Angeles is unknown. Some sources say that Al Capone or Frank Nitti sent him west to oversee the Outfit's business interests such as the racing wire and movie extortion scheme. However, Roselli moved to Los Angeles in 1924, before either Capone or Nitti became boss of the Chicago Outfit. He pleaded guilty to bootlegging beer in 1924 (then going by the name "James Roselli"). Roselli began his California criminal career working with Los Angeles mobster Jack Dragna.
Roselli became close friends with film producer Bryan Foy, who brought Roselli into the movie business as a producer with Foy's small production company, Eagle Lion Studios, where Roselli is credited on a number of early gangster movies as a producer. In the 1940s Roselli was involved in the Outfit's multi-million dollar extortion campaign against the motion picture industry.
1940s[edit | edit source]
In 1942, Roselli was indicted on federal labor racketeering charges along with George Brown, former president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union, and Willie Bioff, labor racketeer and former pimp. On December 4, 1942 Roselli, a professed U.S. patriot, enlisted in the United States Army. He served as a private until he was arrested March 19, 1943.
In 1943, after a year long trial on the racketeering charges, Roselli and several Chicago mobsters were convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. However, in 1947 they were paroled after serving only about three-and-a-half years. It was widely assumed that the Outfit's political fixer, Murray "The Camel" Humphreys, used his influence with President Harry Truman's Attorney General, Tom C. Clark, to spring Roselli and the other Outfit bosses from prison. After his release, Roselli returned to Hollywood in hopes of becoming a movie producer with Bryan Foy.
The extensive influence The Outfit had over Hollywood is best illustrated in 1948 when boss Tony Accardo told Roselli to force powerful Columbia Pictures president Harry Cohn into signing then-unknown actress Marilyn Monroe to a lucrative multi-year contract. The usually combative Cohn quickly complied without opposition, mainly because Cohn had obtained control of Columbia through mob funds and influence provided by both Accardo and Roselli.
1950s[edit | edit source]
In the mid 1950s, Roselli shifted his focus away from Hollywood and toward the fast-growing and highly profitable gambling mecca, Las Vegas, Nevada. By 1956, Roselli had become the Chicago and Los Angeles mob's chief representative in Las Vegas. His job was to ensure that the Chicago mob bosses received their fair share of the burgeoning casino revenues through, "skimming." However, according to the Los Angeles office of the FBI, Roselli was employed as a movie producer at Monogram Studios.
1960s[edit | edit source]
After the Cuban Revolution in January 1959, Castro closed down all the mob casinos in Cuba and drove out the mobsters. Given that experience, Roselli, Chicago Outfit boss Sam Giancana and Tampa boss Santo Trafficante would be receptive to overtures on killing Castro.
In 1960, the CIA recruited ex-FBI agent Robert Maheu, who later became a proxy to billionaire Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, to approach Roselli. Maheu passed himself off as the representative of international corporations that wanted Castro killed because of their lost gambling operations. Roselli introduced Maheu to two men he referred to as "Sam Gold" plus "Joe." "Sam Gold" was Giancana, "Joe" was Santo Trafficante, Jr., the Tampa, Florida boss and one of the most powerful mobsters in pre-revolution Cuba. The agency gave the mobsters six poison pills to murder Castro. For several months, anti-Castro Cubans tied to the Mafia tried unsuccessfully to put the pills into Castro's food. In 1961, after the failed CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba, these assassination attempts, which included hit teams of snipers, trained on Roselli's secret CIA base in the Florida Keys, continued with a vengeance, now with CIA legend William "Wild Bill" King Harvey, taking charge of Roselli's efforts. Many researchers claim that because of the Kennedys' obsession with getting Castro, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, though angry about the CIA's use of one of his prime Mafia targets, chose to continue these efforts until the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962.
In 1963, singer Frank Sinatra sponsored Roselli for membership in the exclusive Los Angeles Friar's Club. Soon after his acceptance, Roselli discovered an elaborate card-cheating operation run by one of his Las Vegas friends, Maury Friedman and asked for his cut. The cheating was finally discovered in July 1967 by FBI agents tailing Roselli Scores of wealthy men (including millionaire Harry Karl, the husband of actress Debbie Reynolds, plus actor Zeppo Marx) were bilked out of millions of dollars. Grant B. Cooper represented some of the defendants in the case, including Roselli. Roselli was eventually convicted and fined $55,000. During the trial, secret grand jury transcripts were discovered on the defense attorney's table. Cooper eventually pled guilty to contempt for possessing the documents.
In 1968, Roselli was tried and convicted of maintaining an illegal residence in the United States (he'd never acquired lawful US residence or citizenship) then was ordered deported to Italy by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. However, Italy refused to accept Roselli, so he remained in the United States.
1970s[edit | edit source]
On June 24 and September 22, 1975 Roselli testified before the 1975 U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCIA) led by Idaho Senator Frank Church about the CIA plan to kill Castro, Operation Mongoose. Shortly before Roselli testified, an unknown gunperson shot and killed Giancana in the basement of his Illinois home. This happened just days before Giancana was to testify before the committee. Giancana's murder supposedly prompted Roselli (whose own power base disappeared with Giancana's death) to permanently leave Los Angeles and Las Vegas for Miami, Florida.
On April 23, 1976 Roselli was called before the committee to testify about a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. Three months after his first round of testimony on the Kennedy assassination, the Committee wanted to recall Roselli. However, at this point, he had been missing since July 28. On August 3, Senator Howard Baker, a member of the new SSCIA, requested the FBI investigate Roselli's disappearance.
Death[edit | edit source]
On August 9, 1976 Roselli's decomposing body was found in a 55-gallon steel fuel drum floating in Dumfoundling Bay near Miami, Florida. Roselli had been strangled and shot, and his legs were sawn off. Some believed that boss Trafficante ordered Roselli's death. According to this theory, Trafficante believed that Roselli had revealed too much about the Kennedy assassination and Castro murder plots during his Senate testimony, violating the strict Mafia code of omertà (silence).
Aftermath[edit | edit source]
In 2010, Playboy magazine published an article by Hillel Levin in which Roselli was implicated in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by William Robert Plumlee and James Files, an inmate within the Illinois Department of Corrections.
New York mob boss Bill Bonanno claimed in his autobiography that while he was imprisoned with Roselli, he spoke to him about the Kennedy assassination. Roselli allegedly told Bonanno that he had fired a shot from a storm drain located on Elm Street in Dallas.
See also[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- (lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann) "CIA's Family Jewels". http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB222/index.htm.
- FBI FOIA files John Roselli FBI Files
- PROTECTION IN DRY CASE BOOSTS FINE. Defendant Refuses to Give Name of Beer Seller When Admitting Guilt. Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1924. Page A5, PART II
- FBI FOIA files John Roselli FBI Files.
- "Sirhan's Lawyer Pleads Guilty To Contempt in Cheating Trial". The New York Times. August 26, 1969.
- "Deep Six for Johnny". Time Magazine. August 23, 1976. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,945646,00.html.
- Levin, Hillel (November 2010). "How the Outfit Killed JFK". Playboy. http://www.playboy.com/playground/newsroom/politics/how-the-outfit-killed-jfk. Retrieved June 3, 2012.
Further reading[edit | edit source]
- Charles Rappleye & Ed Becker, All American Mafioso: The Johnny Roselli Story; Barricade Books, Inc.; 1995 ISBN 1-56980-027-8
- The James E. Files confession
[edit | edit source]
- John Roselli at the Internet Movie Database
- The CIA Family Jewels – includes several memos on Roselli's involvement in attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro