Ignazio Lupo (March 19, 1877 – January 13, 1947), also known as Ignazio Saietta and Lupo the Wolf, was a Sicilian-American Black Hand leader in New York City during the early 1900s. His business was centered in Little Italy, Manhattan, where he ran large extortion operations and committed other crimes including robberies, loan-sharking, and murder. By the start of the 20th century, Lupo merged his Mafia crew with others in the South Bronx and East Harlem to form the Morello crime family (later known as the Genovese crime family), which became the leading Mafia family in New York City.
Suspected of at least 60 murders he was not caught by authorities until 1910, when the Secret Service arrested him for running a large scale counterfeiting ring in the Catskills. After serving 10 years of a 30 year sentence he was "retired" by the emerging National Crime Syndicate.
Ignazio Lupo was born in Palermo, Sicily to parents Rocco Lupo and Onofrio Saietta. The word lupo means wolf in Italian; thus the moniker "Lupo the Wolf" literally translates to the nonsensical "Wolf the Wolf". Ignazio Lupo has sometimes been referred to by his mother's maiden name as Ignazio Saietta, but his actual surname was Lupo. From age 10 he worked in a dry goods store in Palermo. In October 1898, he shot and killed a business rival named Salvatore Morello, according to Lupo in self-defense after Morello attacked him with a dagger during an argument in Lupo's store. Lupo went into hiding after the killing and on the advice of his parents eventually fled Italy to escape prosecution. After stops in Liverpool England, Montreal Canada and Buffalo USA he arrived in New York in 1898. On March 14, 1899, Lupo was convicted in absentia of 'willful and deliberate murder', reportedly due to the testimony of the clerks who worked in his store. Lupo would never return to Sicily to serve the sentence.
Upon settling in New York City, Lupo opened a store at East 72nd Street in Manhattan with his cousin Saitta, but moved his business to Brooklyn after a disagreement. In 1901 he moved his business back to Manhattan and opened a small import store at 9 Prince Street, while also running a saloon across the street at 8 Prince Street. Lupo's father Rocco joined him in New York City in 1902 and together they opened a retail grocery store on 39th Street between 9th and 10th avenues. Around this time, Lupo began preying on his fellow Italian immigrants, using the extortion tactics of the Black Hand.
Morello crime family
In 1902, Giuseppe Morello acquired a saloon at 8 Prince Street, at the rear of the premises where Lupo was running his saloon. Morello had immigrated to the United States from Sicily in the 1890s and had been joined by his three half brothers Vincenzo Terranova, Ciro Terranova and Nicholas Terranova. Lupo became closely associated with the Morello-Terranova faction and eventually married into their immediate family when he wed Salvatrice Terranova on December 23, 1903. He maintained his leadership over his Little Italy based interests, but in the early 1900s Lupo merged his Mafia faction with the Morello-Terranova faction, which basically formed what became known as the Morello crime family, then the leading Mafia family in New York City. Lupo kept his base of operations in Little Italy, but shared the overall leadership of the crime family with Giuseppe Morello from his base in East Harlem, while various members of their group including Morello's half brothers led the affiliated groups and ran the rackets with soldiers like Giuseppe Fanaro, Giuseppe "Joe" Catania Sr., Charles Ubriaco and Tommaso "The Ox" Petto, a top enforcer and killer within the crime family. Lupo demanded absolute obedience from the members of his crew—for example, he killed one of his relatives just because he merely suspected he was a traitor. His reputation became so fearsome that it was common for Italian immigrants to cross themselves at the mention of his name.
Crimes committed and jail time
Lupo was suspected of at least 60 murders, and may have killed many more. However, he was never caught until 1910, when the Secret Service arrested him for running a large scale counterfeiting ring in the Catskills. He was sentenced to 30 years and imprisoned in Atlanta Prison, but was granted parole in 1920. Despite widespread police attention, it was his fellow gangsters who finally reined Lupo in. The emerging National Crime Syndicate felt he would generate too much heat; he relied almost entirely on terror and murder while the Syndicate preferred to use bribery first. In the early 1930s, Lupo was told he was "out," but permitted to run a small Italian lottery in Brooklyn.
On his own, Lupo formed a protection racket involving bakers. In 1936, the Governor of New York Herbert Lehman petitioned President Franklin D. Roosevelt to have Lupo returned to prison for racketeering on a broad scale. He was returned to Atlanta Prison to serve a few years on his original counterfeiting sentence. When he returned to Brooklyn, he had no remaining power and died in 1947 of natural causes.
In popular culture
- There is a character called "Ignaz the Wolf" in author Damon Runyon's short story "Too Much Pep".
- The character of Don Fanucci in The Godfather Part II is based on Ignazio Lupo.