Giovanni "Papa John" Priziola (January 12, 1893 - April 14, 1979) was a powerful Mobster and onetime boss of the Detroit Partnership.
Priziola built a criminal empire which extended from Detroit to Canada, across the Atlantic into his birth place of Partinico, Italy and as far west as San Diego, California. Priziola's appearance was a deceptive measure of his enormous standing in the underworld.
Priziola's importance to the Detroit mob lay in his heading of the families secret yet highly lucrative drug crew known as the Partinico faction. This branch of the Detroit Partnership was established by deported Partner Frank Coppola and Angelo Meli to handle the importation of shipments of heroin that entered the country through Detroit by way of Windsor, Ontario, Canada and was then forwarded on to New York city for distribution throughout the country by Frank Livorsi "the son-in-law of Angelo Meli," and his son-in-law John Ormento of the Lucchese crime family. One of Priziola's lieutenants in the operation was Raffaele Quasarano. In addition to the Partinico operation, Papa John's influence reached into Southern California where through his sons-in-laws Joseph and Frank Matranga, members of the Los Angeles crime family, he was able to secure a nice income from this region as well. The Matranga's joined their diminutive father-in-law in several legitimate business ventures in the San Diego and San Bernardino areas.
Among the Priziola/Matranga joint ventures were several restaurants, Papa Joe's Restaurant in San Diego and the Show Bar in Claremont, California. They also owned many bars including the Tropics Bar, the Bar of Music and the Cactus Bar all in the San Diego area, as well as a number of hotels and the teamster-pension funded, La Mesa Bowl Corp. Papa John's also developed the Harper Metro Subdivision and the Moravian Acres subdivision in addition to holding pieces of the Tocco Wholesale Food Co., City Barber College, Balmoral Gardens and several rental properties. With all of the money rolling in from his legitimate investments, Priziola still received a portion of all loan-sharking, gambling and any other proceeds deriving from the illegitimate rackets set up by his crew and the Detroit Partnership.
Priziola, for all of his business acumen, was not above using violence as Salvatore Vitale a deported partner "and a distant relative of the Matrangas," found out in the early 50s. Vitale had been a member of the Partinico drug ring acting as a shipper on the Italian side of the operation. Vitale had been arrested in California and sent to prison for a couple of years when he was found in violation of his deportation order. At the time of his arrest Vitale had just sent a huge shipment of heroin to Priziola's contact man Raffaele Quasarano. Following Vitale's release from prison he tried to collect on $80,000 he said he was owed to him for the shipment. Priziola initially refused payment because he said the shipment had been contaminated during the cutting process in Italy. Vitale cried foul and arranged to have the situation heard by the ruling council of the Detroit Mob. In the end Priziola agreed to pay Vitale $20,000 for his efforts at getting the heroin into the country but this still did not sit well with the angered Vitale, so he continued to complain to other members of the underworld about his mistreatment at the hands of Priziola.
Salvatore Vitale disappeared on a trip back to Detroit and was never seen again. The rumors immediately went around that he had been killed on the orders of Priziola. The fact that Vitale was a relative of the Matranga's made no difference in matters relating to business. The long life and career of Giovanni Priziola ended on April 14, 1979 at the age of 84. His official role in the Combination was said to be that of consigliere to acting boss Jack Tocco but everyone recognized that as the last original member of the ruling council Papa John's word was final.