|Santo U. Ricchiettori|
Palermo, Sicily, Italy
Brooklyn, New york
Santo Umberto Ricchiettori (1900-1976) nick-named "Sonny Boy" was a reputed Brooklyn loan shark, enforcer and waterfront racketeer in what is now called the Gambino crime family, with a career reaching back to the beginnings of New York City's La Cosa Nostra. Ricchiettori was once dubbed l'Animale (Italian for 'animal') for his involvement in Mafia homicides as the killer and setup man. He was also a member of Murder, Inc. He was also the father of current Gambino family caporegime Salvatore Ricchiettori, and grandfather of Sal Jr. ("Sally Lips"), Joe ("Joey Meatloaf") and Vito ("Frankie Blue Eyes").
Ricchiettori was born in Palermo, Sicily in 1900. His father (a Castellammarese fisherman from the outskirts of Trapani) and mother brought their infant son and his five-year-old sister to America aboard the steamship Agostina. The family settled in the tough neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn, staying with a close friend of Ricchiettore's father, who would later become the boy's godfather.
Ricchiettori's early life was not a happy one. His father, who had found work as a cargo shipper on the Brooklyn waterfront, frequently drank his pay, while his mother and godfather frequently fell victim to the neighborhood extortion gangs. He also did not enjoy coming home each day to the family's small apartment, which housed his father, mother, older sister, and grandparents, as well as the apartment's owner (his godfather) and his godcousin.
In 1913, he met Tommy "numbers" Spilotti. Although the two later became part of the Lucchese crime family, in 1914 they were petty street hoods working their South Bronx neighborhood of East Tremont. They formed a street crew the following year, which soon became known as the East Tremont Brawlers (ETB). Through Spilotti, the cousins introduced card games, numbers and the Italian lottery to Ricchiettori, who jumped at the opportunity to make ends meet.
Soon, their gambling business was so extensive that they began hosting games after school and on their own street block. Spilotti employed neighborhood boys as bodyguards while the games were active, and he and Ricchiettori split the profits equally after paying off the game's security.
The boys' block was Five Points territory. Word of the games soon got back to the gang's leadership. In 1917, Ricchiettori was approached by Pasquale "Patsy" Ciccone and his right hand man Salvatore" Bully" Corrolo. They were there on behalf of Frankie Yale, the leader of the gang's Brooklyn faction, to give the boys a choice. They could cut Yale in on the action; continue to operate while paying weekly protection and some back taxes for operating without gang consent; or become a memory, plain and simple. Ciccone explained that a choice had to be made by the next day. Ricchiettori, speaking for a presumably absent Spiltore, told Ciccone that they would think about it and have an answer for him the following afternoon. Ricchiettori then had an emergency meeting with Spilotti, who in turn consulted his Bronx connection.
By 1917, both were active members of the East Tremont Brawlers, and were paying the Bronx gang roughly 10 percent of their profits. The Brawlers were outmatched by the Five Points Gang in size, manpower, weaponry, and political power. The smaller outfit, thanks to Spiltore and Ricchiettore, now had a foothold in Brooklyn gambling. Spilotti convinced Ricchiettori that they would make Ciccone a strong counteroffer. Donnie Sorrenti handed the pair two pistols and told them "[I]f those Five Points come down with any bad intentions, shoot them dead then hide out in the Bronx." The following evening, Ciccone returned, this time with three other toughs, future mobsters and killers, Bully Corrolo, Angelo "Dot" Dorio, and Vito lanza. Five Points wanted an answer and both Dorio and lanza were both armed with concealed pistols. Ricchiettori, remembering his godfather had been taken advantage of, became furious and talked back to the two Five Pointers, refusing to be intimidated by their arsenal. lanza, annoyed, began drawing his weapon but was quelled by Ciccone. Spilotti explained he didn’t care about the games and could easily start up another, but what he really wanted was to become part of something big, like Ciccone. Spiltore offered to not only join Five Points but to work for Ciccone personally, handing over the whole gambling operation whilst retaining control of day to day operations. In return, Spilotti asked for twenty percent of existing action, fifteen percent to Ciccone if Spiltore created and operated new games, and formal induction into the Five Points gang both for himself and for Ricchiettori. Spilotti was able to convince Ciccone, who told the pair that he had to discuss the proposal with his boss.
The following day, Ciccone appeared, accompanied only by Dot Dorio. Spilotti and Ricchiettori were present with three of their closest associates, Jimmy Shortlegs Bosco, Larry Andone(Androzzi) known as "Larry the Ear" because of his large ears) and Peter "pistol pete"Marangello. Ciccone, impressed by Spilotti's fearless negotiations the day before, accepted Spilotti’s offer. Spilotti and Ricchiettori were both inducted into the Five Points Juniors by Frankie Yale under Maxie Polito, in Yale's Coney Island nightclub. Ricchiettori, lacking Spilotti's wits, became his friend's strong right hand, and extra muscle to be called upon by Ciccone.
When Prohibition took effect in January 1920, many of the street crews and local gangs began merging with bigger crime syndicates. The ban on liquor was a huge moneymaker for criminal outfits, and a harbinger of the 1960s boom in narcotics. Frankie Yale, the boss of the slowly-dissolving Five Points Brooklyn faction declared himself a gangland leader, taking over what was left of the Brooklyn rackets and jump-starting them. The combined operation was dubbed "the Black Hand".
Yale's main racket was extortion. His right bodyguard was Willie" two knife" Altierri. His chief lieutenant was Maxie Nose and his chief enforcer Patsy Ciccone. Yale also employed a rogue's gallery of future gangland celebrities, including Vincent Mangano, Joe Adonis, Anthony "Little Augie Pisano" Carfano, Albert Anastasia and future Chicago Capone gunman Vincenzo Gibaldi (also known as "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn). Together with Al Capone and Johnny Torrio who were involved with the Chicago rackets, the "Prince of Pals” became a force to be reckoned with. In 1920, Yale handed Torrio and Capone Chicago on a silver platter by murdering the city's first mob boss, Jim "Big Jim" Colosimo. This in turn made Yale even more powerful. Within a year, Yale was working directly with the Torrio-Capone gang on a project to build a pipeline from Chicago to New York City to distribute illegal Canadian whisky, with the responsibility for protecting Torrio-Capone trucks from hijacking in New York.
Now under the Yale flag and reporting directly to Patsy Ciccone, Ricchiettori became "the dog that bites" while Spiltori was "the dog that barks". Neither became involved with bootlegging, nor did Ciccone, who was enjoying large profits from Spilotti's gambling rackets. Spilotti maintained his open-house games in Red Hook, and Ricchiettori made sure that the gambling was protected. Spilotti also employed his crew and let Larry "The Ear" run one of the lucrative neighborhood dice games. The Bosco brothers, Jimmy and Big Vic, maintained law and order there under Spilotti's flag. Ricchiettori and pete Marangello (now going by the nickname "Pistol Pete" in reference to the concealed weapon he carried to intimidate players) were always with Spilotti when he hosted large open-house games, as insurance that players would pay what they owed.
Ricchiettori and Pistol Pete had the same rank in protecting Spilotti's games. Ricchiettori studied the operation closely, and realized that he could make big money if he set up a loansharking operation in all of Spilotti's gambling spots, thus cutting out all the freelance sharks who had been operating and collecting without "official" permission. Spilotti agreed to the idea and started a development system of open line credits. Players would enter a game by borrowing against a newly-established credit line of anything upwards of $200. If they lost the money, they owed the house. Since they couldn't pay, they would be introduced to Ricchiettori. Ricchiettori would then give them the choice of borrowing from him at 25 percent weekly until the whole loan was repaid, or of never walking again. Players would then borrow from Ricchiettori and pay off the house, but would not be allowed to leave until they had revealed personal information to Ricchiettori. Every week, Ricchiettori would visit the players in the company of Pistol Pete, collecting their 25 percent payments. Because Spilotti's gambling rackets were very profitable, Ricchiettori soon found himself pursuing more and more addicts.
This was the beginning of Ricchiettori's sixty-year loansharking career. By 1921, Ricchiettori had become one of the youngest gangsters to have more than twenty customers on his owe list at 25 percent weekly. The job became so big that he soon needed help just to pick up the money. Ricchiettore employed neighborhood gangster Salvatore "Sally nono" inono as his bookkeeper, and formed a formal partnership with Pistol Pete to collect the debts. The operation brought in a cash flow of about two to three hundred dollars a week, and the same players kept coming back to Spilotti's spots to gamble.
The situation deteriorated when the ongoing dispute between Frankie Yale's Black Hand and the rival White Hand operation erupted into an all-out war on the streets of Brooklyn. Ricchiettori was able to turn the situation to his advantage, rapidly becoming known for his skill at murder.