Mafia Wiki
Mafia Wiki

Joe Cerrito

Giuseppe "Joe" Cerrito/Joseph Cerrito (born January 25, 1911- died September 8, 1978) was a mobster and boss of the San Jose crime family.


Giuseppe Xavier Cerrito was born in Palermo, Sicily and immigrated to New York in the 1920s where he became associated with the Profaci/Colombo crime family. In the 1940s, Cerrito moved to California where he became a member of the local mob and quickly rose up in the ranks of the San Jose crime family. He was married to Elizabeth Agnes Ardizzone (possibly related to early Los Angeles crime boss Joseph Ardizzone). Cerrito owned a Lincoln and Mercury car dealership in the San Jose area and one in Los Gatos. He also owned a foreign-car sales and a repair center in San Jose. Cerrito was a very successful businessman. He often frequented New York and Detroit. By the 1960s Cerrito was a multimillionaire. Cerrito was associated with mafia members throughout the nation and in Sicily. He was one of many mob leaders that attended the 1957 Apalachin Mafia Conference and escaped arrest along with many others. In 1959, San Jose mafia boss Onofrio Sciortino died of natural causes and Cerrito became the new boss of the crime family.

In 1964, Cerrito was identified as meeting in Palermo, Sicily with Bonanno crime family mobster Francesco Garafolo, of whom Cerrito was a close associate. It has been speculated that they were either discussing Heroin trafficking or the gang war that was taking place in Brooklyn within the Bonanno family, especially the situation with Joseph "Bananas" Bonanno who was inciting a war within his own crime family, planning to kill the bosses of other crime family's and take over the rackets on the West Coast. Cerrito had been somewhat submissive to Bonanno's take over bid when he began to form a power-base in Tucson, Arizona (without knowing), and had allowed Bonanno to set up operations in San Jose, where he had a crew and many business interests. Six months later in Palermo, warrants were issued for the arrest of Cerrito, Garafolo and 12 others for aggravated criminal conspiracy as members of the international mafia. His meetings with Garafolo in Palermo were all watched and photographed by Italian police. The charges against Cerrito did not make him extraditable and were later dismissed due to lack of evidence. Cerrito was however placed on the Italian police's "watch list" and was not allowed to return to Italy.

Ineffectual Mob Family

Joseph Cerrito

Cerrito and his men were involved in an extortion attempt of the owner of Harold's Casino in Reno, Nevada in 1966. The owner owed a Cerrito family member $100,000 plus interest. They threatened to kill the man if he didn't pay the money. The owner refused to pay. Some of Cerrito's soldiers were dispatched to Reno but didn't have any luck at getting the money and were even shrugged off on one occasion. The situation became something of an embarrassment to Cerrito and his crime family, showing that they had no real "muscle" and were not very feared either. Cerrito finally called for help from the guys in New York. The mob in New York sent Colombo crime family soldier John "Big John" Misuraca, older brother of San Jose mobster Pete Misuraca. John arrived in San Jose on October 15, 1966. Cerrito and John both went to Reno to get the money but the owner was not there. John went back to New York and Cerrito never got his money. It was all too much for a tough old-school mobster like John "Big John" Misuraca. Despite his mob misfortunes, Cerrito continued to flourish; he was never cited as notably vicious or powerful, but he ran his businesses and ineffectual mob family. He was not particularly feared but unquestionably respected. What he did have was influence and control, especially in the Santa Clara Valley. Cerrito was as close as a Cosa Nostra boss could come to complete respectability and had a virtually unblemished record. He kept away from common street rackets, as a result bustling local bookies operated freely and separately from the Cerrito mafia organization. Cerrito and his men came out of their shelter of legitimacy only for matters of importance. Under Cerrito's leadership the San Jose family reportedly consisted of around 24 members and all followed his lead in keeping up a law-abiding appearance. Cerrito and his crime family were more first class businessmen and diplomats than gangsters.

Later Years and Death

In 1968 LIFE Magazine identified Joseph Cerrito as the crime boss of the San Jose mob. He sued for libel but the case was eventually dismissed.

Cerrito retired and died of natural causes in 1978, his younger brother Salvatore Cerrito was also a member of the San Jose family and passed away in December of the same year. Joseph's son Salvatore Anthony Cerrito became an associate of the San Jose family in the 1960s and was once arrested for money laundering. Angelo Marino succeeded him as boss of the San Jose mafia family.