Aladena James Fratianno (November 14, 1913 – June 30, 1993) also known as "James" or "Jimmy the Weasel", was an American mobster and later acting boss of the Los Angeles crime family before becoming a government witness. Fratianno was the most powerful mobster at the time to become a federal witness. He was also a brutal hitman who carried out, planned or participated in many gangland slayings, all in California. He operated in bookmaking, loansharking, extortion, fraud, overseeing a burglary crew (see Frank Velotta) and a wide array of other illegal activities. He also owned bars, a dress shop, restaurants, dealt in diamonds and owned a trucking company, amongst others.
Fratianno moved perpetually in exotic circles, a man of inexhaustible energy, an ingenious schemer and scammer, an insatiable womanizer and socializer who was quick to ingratiate himself with mafia royalty, Hollywood celebrities, politicians, prominent lawyers, successful businessmen and teamster officials. During his years in the mob, by his and other corroborating accounts, he gambled at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas with its late proprietor, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel; ate lunch in Los Angeles with Menachem Begin and then helped steal $1 million collected for Israel at a Hollywood fund-raiser, and spent 20 years in prison over three different stretches.
He was photographed backstage with Frank Sinatra (who owes him $5,000, Fratianno claimed), dodged bullets on the Sunset Strip, tried unsuccessfully to blow up a house and gain ownership in a Casino. Extorted, philandered, autographed a book for U.S. Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese and helped send about a dozen Mafia bosses to prison by testifying for the government.
Born in Naples, Italy, Fratianno was brought to the U.S. by his parents at just four months old. His father Antonio Fratianno worked as a landscape contractor and was known as a serious, sober man, a good provider and absolute autocrat of his household. He had a brother and sister, Louise and Warren Fratianno. Jimmy began stealing from fruit stands as a child, one such occasion earned him the nickname "Weasel" from a witness who saw him outrun police in the Little Italy section of Cleveland, saying "look at that weasel run!". The police who arrested him wrote down the nickname and it became part of his police record, following him wherever he went. As a youth, Fratianno boxed under the name "Kid Weasel", but otherwise did not like the name and was never called "Weasel" in person. Fratianno used the first name "Jimmy" because he believed "Aladena" sounded like "a broad's name".
Fratianno was preoccupied with the importance of money from a very young age, he had his own paper route and by age 11 would work six day weeks in the summer at his father's landscaping business. By age 12 he was working part-time in a speakeasy. Two years later he dropped out of Collinwood High. He went to work for a gambler named Johhny Martin who operated a game at a Greek restaurant and taught him how to cheat. Martin was an early mentor of the Weasel's and taught him how to make money off gambling and to be a successful bookie. As a young man, Fratianno became involved in Cleveland's organized crime syndicate as a gambler and robber.
Fratianno soon became involved as a low level associate of Cleveland's Jewish and Italian mob's known as "The Combination" delivering customers to their gambling dens, booking at the local racetracks and hanging around one of Anthony Milano's clubs. Fratianno once booked bets at the racetrack in Hialeah, Florida where he said he was briefly introduced to infamous New York crime boss Lucky Luciano by a man named Johnny King. Around this time Fratianno also became an enforcer for the Teamsters union who at the time were trying to organize the parking lots in Cleveland and would recruit people to fight "Scabs" and police whenever the union would order a strike.
He soon graduated to robbing other people's gambling games with Anthony Delsanter and Frank Valenti, future boss of the Rochester crime family of New York. One robbery went wrong and he wound up spending eight years in the Ohio Penitentiary. While in prison, Fratianno met and befriended powerful Detroit mobster Thomas "Yonnie" Licavoli, who recommended that the Weasel should look up Johnny Roselli if he ever went to Los Angeles. More than two years would pass after Fratianno's release from prison before he would finally meet his future mafia sponsor, lifelong friend and ally John Roselli.
When he got out in 1945, he went back to pulling heists. A boyhood friend, Louis "Babe" Triscaro, had become a Teamster leader; he wangled Jimmy a job as a factory canteen manager. As soon as his parole was up, he headed for Los Angeles, with his wife Jewel and $90,000 stashed in the trunk of his new Buick to launch his California career.
In Los Angeles he quickly set up a successful bookmaking operation and was a part of Mickey Cohen's syndicate but later began to pal around with such up-and-coming hoods as Salvatore "Dago Louie" Piscopo, Girolomo Adamo and Frank "Bomp" Bompensiero and switched over to the Los Angeles crime family. Fratianno would later actively participate in at least one attempt on Cohen's life during the denominated 'Battle of Sunset Strip'. It was in Los Angeles that he was also introduced to Chicago Outfit mobster Johnny Roselli who sponsored him for membership in the Los Angeles crime family. In 1947, Fratianno became a made man in the Los Angeles Crime Family under boss Jack Dragna. Fratianno worked with fellow Los Angeles Mafiosi Frank Bompensiero, Leo Moceri, Dominic Brooklier, and Salvatore Piscopo. In 1952, Dragna promoted Fratianno to caporegime.
Fratianno would later lament ever joining the mob as he expressed in his later years:
"If I knew what I know today, they would've never had gotten me into any organization, 'cause all I did was make money for everybody else. I was a good hustler". "I didn't know what i was getting into... it's something that, after thinking about it all these years I'm sorry i ever belonged to... if i wasn't involved I'd have been a millionaire today".
West Coast mobster
While in L.A., Fratianno participated in one of Hollywood's most notorious gangland slayings, that of Anthony Brancato and his associate Anthony Trombino, who were two young mobsters that were performing many audacious robberies without the sanction of the Los Angeles family. Fratianno led a squad of hit men who shot and killed Brancato and Trombino in their car on August 6, 1951.
After Dragna's death in 1956, Frank DeSimone became the new boss of the Los Angeles crime family. Fratianno soon became dissatisfied with DeSimone's leadership and also blamed him for being convicted in an extortion case in which DeSimone acted as his attorney. Fratianno once commented that if the New York bosses were men who, given a different start, might have headed legitimate corporations, the Los Angeles family was led by 'Dead Heads'. Fratianno claimed that when he went to prison he owned several businesses in Los Angeles and had over $100,000 dollars out on the streets in shylock money, and that Louis Tom Dragna was the only member of the 'family' who gave his wife any type of financial support, and that everybody else just ripped him off. In 1960, after serving a 6½ year sentence for extortion, Fratianno transferred to the Chicago Outfit. He still lived and remained active in California and Las Vegas and remained closely associated with Bompensiero. During the 1960s and 1970s, Fratianno started his own trucking company. His wife Jewel officially owned the company, even after her separation and divorce from Fratianno. Fratianno also attempted several times to build, own, or obtain a share in a Las Vegas casino, but failed each time.
"Vegas was our town... We just never could get lucky up there."
Life in San Francisco
In his book, Fratianno said he reported to James Lanza in 1973 when he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area after his release from prison. A few years later, Lanza ended his friendship with Fratianno. Lanza complained about him being in San Francisco. In 1977, Fratianno heard Lanza had put out a hit on him, because he felt Fratianno was bringing too much attention to the existence of the San Francisco crime family. In the Bay Area, Fratianno and his crew would often frequent a cafe owned by Mafia associate Salvatore Amarena. Fratianno was known to have global connections. One such connection was with Australian organized crime figures. In 1976, Australian criminal, Murray Riley met with Fratianno in San Francisco, allegedly, to organize drug shipments. The same year, Sydney businessman, Bela Csidei also met with Fratianno in San Francisco. The FBI took photographs of this meeting.
Fratianno also associated with Australian/Hungarian transport magnate and managing director of Thomas Nationwide Transport (better known as TNT), Peter Abeles. Through Fratianno's connections with Teamsters and Longshoremen's unions, particularly with Rudy Tham, a San Francisco Teamsters leader, Abeles was able to use his company to smuggle drugs in and out of the USA, as well as reduce industrial tensions on the waterfront.
In 1975, Fratianno got married to a woman he met in an Airport in 1966 who was 27 years younger than him. During this period, he started providing information on organized crime to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In exchange for his information, Fratianno received less scrutiny from law enforcement along with a small amount of money. By all accounts, Fratianno's information was of marginal value and never helped convict anyone. In 1976, the Los Angeles crime family offered Fratianno the opportunity to become acting boss, so he rejoined them.
In 1975, the boss of the Los Angeles family, Dominic Brooklier, was headed to prison for 20 months and Louis Tom Dragna was made Acting Boss. He accepted the position on the condition that he run the family together with Fratianno. Fratianno accepted the proposal with the understanding that he would carry the majority of the responsibility. Fratianno took this new position to heart, traveling the country, making deals and forming connections to other crime families from across the U.S. He saw the opportunity of being named Acting boss as a way to become the permanent boss of the family. Fratianno was hoping that by making the family stronger and boosting its reputation, that he'd earn support to take over the family even when Brooklier was released from prison.
Soon after, he was approached by Dragna in regards to having Frank Bompensiero murdered. Bompensiero (a soldier in the Los Angeles family) was one of the few made men that Fratianno trusted, as they were old friends, and he was infuriated that the L.A family would give him such a 'contract'. At this point Fratianno felt that he was tricked into becoming Acting Boss, a position which required him to be transferred from the Chicago family to the L.A family. Because of his close relationship with Bompensiero, it was assumed that Fratianno could easily lay a trap and murder him. Fratianno stalled until the contract was given to other mob associates.
Brooklier returned from prison in October 1976 after serving 16 months. After a transition period he called Fratianno to a meeting some time before February 11, 1977 and announced he was ready to resume his position as Boss. Fratianno was once again a soldier.
Last stages of Mafia career
Some time between February 11 and May 16, 1977, Brooklier summoned Fratianno to a meeting and confronted him about a rumor that Fratianno was running a separate 'crew' in the Los Angeles territory and saying, "Jimmy, you've got a bad mouth, like [Bompensiero]..." In June 1977, Fratianno learned that Brooklier had started a rumor that he had never made Fratianno Acting Boss and that Fratianno was misrepresenting himself. Brooklier and his underboss Samuel Sciortino, also spread rumors that he was running a separate crew in the Los Angeles area without the proper sanction and blessing of his mafia superiors. Fratianno began to suspect that Brooklier was trying to poison his reputation within the Mafia thus laying the groundwork for a sanctioned hit, or execution, of himself. Fratianno tried to send word through Joseph Aiuppa, the Chicago Mafia boss, that he wanted to "straighten things out," but Brooklier wouldn't talk to him. Then at the wake of Anthony Delsanter, Fratianno learned that the Cleveland crime family had a connection in the FBI, a clerk, that was feeding them documents about Mafia informants. James T. Licavoli, said to him, "Jimmy, sometimes, you know, I think this fucking outfit of ours is like the old Communist party in this country. It's getting so that there's more fucking spies in it than members." Licavoli also told him that the Cleveland family had the code numbers for two informants and that the FBI clerk was working on getting their names.
Fratianno, concerned he would be revealed as an informant, communicated this information to his contact at the FBI and began working with Jim Ahearn, (Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco Field Office) in an effort to plug the leak. At this point Fratianno felt the pressure mounting and considered three options to extricate himself from his predicament. He could enter the Witness Protection Program, flee the country, or kill his enemies within the Mafia organization. He actively pursued all three options.
On October 6, 1977 Danny Greene was killed and Ray Ferritto was arrested for the murder. Ferritto implicated Fratianno in the planning of the murder and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Ahearn arrested Fratianno who, at this point was looking at life in prison or death by Brooklier's order, agreed to become a government witness against the Mafia. Unlike Genovese crime family informant Joe Valachi, a low-level "soldier" limited to knowledge within New York, Fratianno was privy to information on the detailed hierarchy of organized syndicate operations across the United States. Fratianno also knew about Florida crime boss Santo Trafficante, Jr.'s 1960s plans to assassinate Cuban president Fidel Castro as part of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Operation Mongoose. Some conspiracy theorists, (such as the Gemstone File), named Fratianno as one of the three assassins of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
In 1981, after testifying for the government, Fratianno entered the federal Witness Protection Program. Fratianno enjoyed his years as a criminal celebrity with appearances on the CBS 60 Minutes television news program, The Oprah Winfrey show and various television documentaries. Once asked if he thought he was a better snitch than a made guy, Fratianno replied:
"No way. No way.... I proved myself, that's why the bosses promoted me. I could do a lot of things other people couldn't do. I could set people up. I could kill them. I was a good moneymaker. I was the guy, anytime they wanted somebody killed in L.A., I got the contract, okay? I killed half the guys that were killed in L.A. during the time I was there. So the boss knew what he was doing. He picked me when he had something tough to do."
During his time in the Witness Protection Program, Fratianno was said to be demanding, conniving and capricious gaining all he could at the governments expense in return for his cooperation, even taking vacations to the Caribbean. Fratianno became the highest-paid participant in the history of the federal witness protection program. The government finally dropped him from the program after he published two biographies, The Last Mafioso with author Ovid Demaris and Vengeance is Mine with author Michael J. Zuckerman, even going on a book tour. Around this time Fratianno also reportedly acquired a condominium in Texas and built a $190,000 ocean-side home somewhere on the West Coast. The FBI determined that Fratianno could support himself; they didn't want the public to think that the Witness Protection Program was a retirement plan for former mobsters. Fratianno however was furious and remained bitter toward the Government, "You don't just take a guy after 10 years and throw him out on the street".
In 1993, Aladena "Jimmy the weasel" Fratianno died peacefully in Oklahoma from complications of Alzheimer's Disease at age 79. Fratianno was and remains one of the most prominent and exceptional mobsters in the history of the now dwindling Los Angeles crime family that he once briefly led during the 1970s.
Frank Borgia - Borgia was a Los Angeles winemaker, former bootlegger and was a member of the Los Angeles crime family, according to Fratianno. Borgia was resisting an extortion attempt by Gaspare Matranga and Jack Dragna. Bompensiero and Fratianno had someone bring Borgia in a house (reportedly Anthony Mirabile) and they both strangled him with a rope and buried him. (1951)
Frank Niccoli - Niccoli was a bodyguard for Mickey Cohen. Fratianno tried to convince Niccoli to betray Cohen, but Niccoli refused. Fratianno and Sam Bruno murdered him with a rope. Fratianno would later describe in a 60 Minutes interview how Niccoli pissed himself in his living room when they strangled him to death. (1949)
Anthony Brancato - Brancato and his associate Tony Trombino were two young mobsters who were performing many audacious robberies without the sanction of the Los Angeles family. Fratianno led a squad of hitmen who shot and killed Brancato and Trombino in their car in perhaps Hollywood's most notorious gangland slaying. (August 6, 1951)
Anthony Trombino - see Anthony Brancato. (August 6, 1951)
Louis "Russian Louie" Strauss - Strauss was a mobster trying to extort money from Las Vegas casino owner Benny Binion, a friend of Jack Dragna's. Bompensiero and Fratianno strangled Strauss with a rope in a room in the presence of several other mobsters. (1953)
Fratianno also alleged in a 60 Minutes interview that he killed another man, whom he did not identify saying "... i just took a guy out of Vegas one time, out of the Desert Inn (Casino) and killed him, there is different ways and different methods (to kill someone)". Date unknown.