Santo Trafficante Jr.
Nov. 15, 1914, to March 17, 1987.
"Louis Santos," "Sam Balto"
Trafficante transformed the Tampa, Florida, Mafia into an international force during his three decades as its boss.
Born to a Sicilian-American family in Tampa on Nov. 15, 1914, Trafficante took the leadership of the Tampa organization upon his father's (Santo Sr.) death in 1954. At that time, he had already established working arrangements with gambling facilities in Cuba and was running a numbers game ("bolita") within the Cuban and African-American communities in Florida. Authorities believe he also engaged in drug trafficking.
In the 1950s, Trafficante was arrested several times in connection with his gambling ventures, but he managed to be acquitted every time. His one conviction of that period occurred in 1954 on bribery charges. He appealed the verdict and had it overturned by the state Supreme Court.
The Tampa mobster reportedly had close relations with gambling big shot Meyer Lansky, New York Mafioso Albert Anastasia and New Orleans crime boss Carlos Marcello. His friendships with Lansky and Anastasia might have resulted in a conflict of interest in 1957, as Anastasia began negotiations with Cuban authorities to open his own gambling establishment. That appears to have sealed Anastasia's fate. He was already despised by New York's Vito Genovese (held in check by a Frank Costello-Anastasia alliance) and Carlo Gambino (who wanted to take his place as a family boss). With Lansky and Trafficante swinging over to the Genovese-Gambino side, Anastasia had little/no support left in the national crime Syndicate.
Trafficante was reportedly one of the last people to see Anastasia alive. Author Scott M. Deitche ("Cigar City Mafia") indicates that Trafficante met with Anastasia accompanied by Cuban gangster Robert "Chili" Mendoza. Perhaps Trafficante visited his old friend in New York in the hope of talking him out of a Havana business venture. (Though the established Havana gambling interests had eliminated one challenger, they would soon face a much stronger foe.)
Trafficante was among the many Mafiosi nabbed as police crashed the party at Apalachin in 1957. When brought up on charges stemming from that gathering, Trafficante skipped out to the safe haven - at the moment - of Cuba.
The triumph of Fidel Castro's communist revolution in Cuba was profoundly costly for Trafficante and the other mobsters who invested in Havana casinos. It was also humiliating for a number of them. Trafficante was jailed during the summer of 1959 in Havana along with Jake Lansky (Meyer's brother and business partner) and some other underworld investors. At the end of the summer, he was released and returned to Tampa.
There he stood trial for tax evasion but was acquitted. At about that time, Trafficante, Chicago's Sam Giancana, Johnny Roselli (an important mafioso in Illinois and Florida) and other underworld elements became involved with the CIA in plotting to overthrow Castro. According to testimony before congressional investigators, the conspirators eventually settled on the idea of dropping a poison pill into a soft drink given to the Cuban dictator. It is unknown if the pill was ever delivered. Trafficante visited Cuba once more in 1960, but found the situation there to be hopeless.
Conspiracy theorists believe Trafficante subsequently joined with Cuban exiles and American Mafiosi in a plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. Trafficante was no fan of Kennedy's, but he vehemently denied involvement in the assassination. One informant insisted to federal investigators that Trafficante predicted the Kennedy assassination six months before it occurred. The mob boss was known to have a connection to Dallas's Jack Ruby, who shot and killed alleged JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald before a hearing could be held. Trafficante was under government surveillance for most of the next two decades and frequently was called to testify before investigatory panels.
Some sources suggest that Trafficante was later involved in the Iran-Contra affair of the Reagan Administration. His connections in Latin America and his continuing relationship with the American intelligence agencies make that seem possible.
In the final years of his life while suffering with a kidney condition, the law appeared to be catching up with Trafficante. 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 March 17, 1987, three hours after undergoing a triple-bypass at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston.
© 2007 T.Hunt
The American "Mafia"