John T. Scalish (September 25, 1912 - May 26, 1976) also known as "Johnny" and "John Scalise" was an Italian-American crime lord and the longtime boss Cleveland crime family. Scalish was the most powerful and successful boss in the history of the Cleveland Mafia. His death resulted in the ascension of James T. Licavoli to the head of the Cleveland Syndicate and to a bloody gang war that would almost destroy the once powerful crime family that Scalish had helped build into a multi-billion dollar criminal empire.
In 1944, Scalish succeeded Alfred Polizzi as head of the Cleveland family upon his retirement to Florida. Scalish attended the infamous Apalachin Mafia Conference in 1957 in upstate New York. He was the brother-in-law of Philadelphia crime family boss Angelo Bruno and "Maishe" Milton Rockman an associate and adviser of the Cleveland syndicate. During Scalish's tenure as the boss, the Cleveland family lived up it's golden years.
Scalish was involved in Casino skimming in Las Vegas, Nevada shaking down Casinos such as the Stardust and Desert Inn along with other crime bosses from across the U.S. Scalish oversaw the Cleveland family's aggressive move into Las Vegas and California with Moe Dalitz taking over the failing Desert Inn from Bugsy Siegel. Dalitz also led the development of other casinos, a major hospital and other Las Vegas projects, many of which were financed by the mob-controlled Teamsters union. Scalish was a very powerful and respected mob boss and overruled underlings who controlled gambling, loansharking and during his reign, large scale union corruption. His rap sheet dated back to 1930 and included arrests for burglary and robbery. Scalish was also a powerful labor racketeer in Cleveland. During Scalish's reign as boss Cleveland mobsters had much control over the Teamsters union. By the 1950s, the Cleveland Mafia reached its peak, with 600 made members, and thousands of associates, according to the FBI. By the 1970s, however, the family's membership began to decrease, because Scalish didn't induct many new members because he felt the organization was too massive.
Scalish brought the Cleveland crime family a lengthy period of stability and maintained violence at a minimum concentrating more on expanding the families influence and fortunes than gaining a reputation for fear and unnecessary violence. He forged ties between Italian and Jewish underworld forces during his reign to make lots of illicit money. He additionally knew many prominent local politicians and judges on a first name basis which helped the crime family to stay under the radar for many years. Scalish, once sat on the National La Cosa Nostra Commission that allocated territories and settled disputes among Mafia families across the nation. Scalish was boss of the Cleveland mob for 32 years, by far the longest reigning boss in the history of the Cleveland Mafia. During his time as the crime family's leader, the group also developed ties with important crime figures like Shondor Birns, Meyer Lansky, and Tony Accardo. They became allies of the extremely powerful Chicago Outfit and Genovese crime family.
On May 26, 1976 John Scalish died during heart surgery. He died as he had lived — quietly, without fanfare. Only his closest family was nearby. Scalish was the last great don of the Cleveland Mafia. A full scale gang war for control of the Cleveland rackets would broke out after his death between James T. Licavoli, Scalish's successor, and Irish mob boss Danny Greene.