The American Mafia

Crime Bosses
of Tampa


1940s - Santo Trafficante Sr. (May 28, 1886, to August 10, 1954). Born in Italy, Trafficante came to the United States about 1900. Through his adult life, he portrayed himself as the moderately successful owner of a Tampa cigar factory. (In fact, he and his wife worked together in a cigar factory before World War I.). Trafficante became a major force in the American Mafia after Prohibition, as crime bosses rushed to open gambling facilities in Havana, Cuba. Trafficante's proximity to Cuba gave him added prestige and great wealth. The pre-1950s Tampa Mafia picture is hazy.

Some sources state that Trafficante did not hold the boss post until 1950, upon the murder of a mafioso named James Lumia (Sept. 10, 1903, to June 5, 1950). Others claim that gambler Salvatore Italiano was an earlier boss. An Ignacio Italiano is known to have represented Tampa interests at the Cleveland Unione conference in 1928. A non-Italian native Floridian named Charlie M. Wall (1880 to April 18, 1955) is credited with provided organization to Tampa area crime before World War II. Wall retired by the 1940s. Some local officials reported that Salvatore Scaglione was Mafia boss from the late 1940s until about 1950.

Henry Trafficante

1950s - Trafficante's sons, Henry and Santo Jr. (both saloon operators at the time), were investigated along with Joe Perrone in connection with a St. Petersburgh numbers racket known as "bolita." The Trafficantes were also charged with attempting to bribe an undercover officer who unearthed the gambling ring. The bolita investigation was picked up by federal authorities, who indicted the brothers and six bolita partners for tax evasion. Authorities obtained a 1954 conviction for bribery, but the decision was reversed on appeal.

Santo Trafficante Jr.

1954 - Santo Trafficante Jr. (Nov. 15, 1914, to March 17, 1987). Trafficante Jr. rose to the position of Tampa boss upon his father's death of natural causes in 1954. His reign from Tampa and North Miami Beach lasted several decades. According to authorities, Trafficante never spent a day in an American jail. The first years of his career as boss were probably the easiest and richest. Trafficante earned a great fortune as the mob's tie to Havana. With the fall of the Batista government on Jan. 1, 1959, things became more complicated. New Cuban leader Fidel Castro closed down the Mafia-owned casinos, and Trafficante spent some time in a Cuban jail. Upon his release, Trafficante responded by conspiring with Chicago and New Orleans mafiosi and with American intelligence agencies on unsuccessful plots to remove or assassinate Castro. He admitted his anti-Castro activities to the House assassinations committee in 1978. Though he vehemently denied any association with a conspiracy against President John Kennedy, at least one witness before federal investigators testified that Trafficante predicted the assassination in spring of 1963. Federal investigators brought racketeering and conspiracy charges against him in summer of 1986. Those were linked to illegal gambling operations. The case ended in a mistrial. Just before his death, the government charged him with taking kickbacks skimmed from the International Laborers Union dental and eye health care plans. Trafficante died three hours after undergoing a triple-bypass at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston.

Frank Diecidue

Frank Diecidue (Feb. 20, 1915, to Oct. 19, 1994). Diecidue is believed to have been part of a leadership group in the Tampa Mafia Family from the time of Trafficante's death until his own death seven years later. Some sources indicate that he served as underboss or front man for another big shot. Diecidue was heavy into gambling. During this period, Steve Raffa (Oct. 2, 1941, to Nov. 16, 2000) gained control of the family's wing in the Miami area. Raffa died of an apparent suicide in 2000 while awaiting trial on racketeering, loansharking and gambling charges. He reportedly hanged himself with an electrical cord. According to the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office, there was no evidence of homicide.