James Joseph Lanza (October 25, 1902 - February 14, 2006) known as "Jimmy the Hat", was an Italian-American mobster and most well known boss of the San Francisco crime family. He was the son of the first known boss of the San Francisco mob, Frank Lanza, and took over the family in 1961, which is now extinct. He was first noticed when Life magazine published his photo in the late 1960s, identifying him as the boss of the mafia in the San Francisco area.
Lanza was born in Palermo, Sicily, to Francesco Lanza, an Italian immigrant who was the first boss of the San Francisco crime family, and Caterina Lanza, an Italian-American. When he was a kid, his parents moved to San Francisco from New York City.
During the 1940s and 1950s, Lanza was underboss of the San Francisco crime family, working under Michael Abati. He represented the San Francisco LCN family's interest from the early 1940s to 1952 before being convicted of failing to report nearly $1 million in unpaid taxes. In 1957, he attended the infamous Apalachin Meeting with other West Coast mobsters (Frank DeSimone, Simone Scozzari and Joseph Cerrito), representing San Francisco, when the raid happened he was never caught, possibly escaping through the woods with other mobsters.
Boss of the San Francisco family
After Michael Abati was indicted and deported back to Italy, Lanza was named boss in 1961, making his underboss, Gaspare Sciortino. Lanza soon became the most powerful and successful boss the family ever had, he operated gambling operations, extortion, loansharking and prostitution activities principally in the Bay Area, Skid row and at the Fisherman's Warf.
Lanza was respected on a national scale and rarely left his domain. Under his leadership, the San Francisco family consisted of no more than 25 made members. His legitimate interests included and Olive oil company, real estate and work as an insurance dealer. Lanza became well connected throughout the country with other mob figures, as well in Las Vegas by his friend William "Bones" Remmer. Remmer was Lanza's link to Las Vegas and started their own casino skim. He became close friends with Joseph Civello, the boss of the Dallas crime family and to Joseph Cerrito, the boss of the San Jose crime family. His long time underboss, Gaspare "Bill" Sciortino was the cousin to the underboss of the Los Angeles crime family, Samuel Sciortino, making their connections down south stronger. He had close ties with former mayor of San Francisco, Joseph Alioto. In 1973, the Los Angeles family member, Jimmy "the weasel" Fratianno moved to the Bay Area. Lanza didn't like Fratianno at all, he put a contract on him because he was bringing too much attention to the San Francisco family in 1977. Their friendship quickly ended. This turned out to be a wise decision on Lanza's part to not form alliances with Fratianno as he would later become the highest ranking Cosa Nostra member of the time to ever turn government witness and help imprison many Mafia bosses from across the United States. Lanza quietly operated his crime family from behind the scenes and faced little in way of prosecution.
Lanza was believed to have given permission for the murder of former New England Patriarca crime family associate, turned government witness Joseph Barboza in 1976, in which members of the San Jose crime family also had a role along with Providence mobster Joseph "JR" Russo. As the family grew older, Lanza would watch as his small crime family grew to include 15-20 made members. Lanza had the misfortune of being one of the first mob bosses to garner media interest and was linked by Life magazine to Mob boss Carlos Marcello and to Mayor Joseph Alioto.
Since the 1980s, the San Francisco crime family began to wither away. Lanza only made one new member into the crime family and inclined more toward legitimate business dealings as he became older and his crime family began to shrink with the retirement and death of many of it's members. Lanza died peacefully of natural causes on February 14, 2006 in San Mateo, California. He was 103. Frank "Skinny" Velotta was believed to have succeeded Lanza as the boss of the San Francisco mafia but this was never substantiated and Velotta reportedly died of natural causes in the 2000s. The San Francisco crime family is currently extinct.