Joseph Zammuto (1897- 1990) was a powerful Sicilian-born mob boss of the Rockford crime family in Illinois from 1958-1973.
Zammuto was born in Aragona, Sicily. He immigrated to America during the early 1920s and quickly found a home in Chicago and then Rockford. He teamed up and successfully defeated the Giovingo brothers during the violent bootlegging wars working alongside crime boss Antonio Musso. In the aftermath, Zammuto was awarded capo status. When it was time for mob leaders to meet at the ill-fated 1957 Apalachin, NY summit it was Zammuto who represented Rockford's crime family and was arrested by local police when the meeting was raided.
Boss of Rockford
Following the Apalachin fiasco and subsequent death of Musso in 1958, Zammuto forced Gaspare Calo to step down as boss so he could assume control of the small Rockford crime family. Zammuto enjoyed a carefree run as top rackets boss and was considered a close associate to both Frank Balistrieri of Milwaukee and Joseph Aiuppa of the Chicago Outfit. In place was Zammuto as boss, either Charlie Vince or Frank Buscemi as underboss, Joe Zito as consigliere with high ranking members such as Sebastian 'Knobby' Gulotta and Phil Cannella at his side.
Zammuto invested heavily in restaurants. At one time Zammuto held significant interest in at least three Italian restaurants, several are still in operation today. In comparison to Milwaukee or Chicago the Rockford crime family was much smaller and at their height under Zammuto, the FBI could only document 30 made members at best. In 1965, he showed he was as cold as any Cosa Nostra boss when he approved of the murder of Rockford mobster Charles LaFranka. The murdered mob soldier was found beaten and strangled in the trunk of his car. His murder has never been solved and no one has ever been charged. It is quite possible that LaFranka refused to come to one of the regular meetings held at the Aragona Social Club, Zammuto's primary office during the 1960s-70s, which was located on Kent Street in Rockford.
In December 1968, a grand jury convened to question members of the Rockford syndicate regarding their illicit activities. The investigation specifically was interested in the crime family's influence over liquor license violations (at the time most lounges were in some way connected to Zammuto's crime family). Zammuto, Zito, Buscemi and Joe Maggio were called. Other members were later called as well but little came from the effort.
The Rockford crime family has always been low key and this was never more apparent than in 1972. In August of that year, John Alioto legendary crime figure and father in law to Milwaukee crime boss Frank Balistrieri passed away. Rockford mob capo Phil Priola, owner of Towne and Country Motel, placed a call that was probably ordered by Zammuto regarding their attendance at the Alioto funeral. Priola relayed a message to the Milwaukee syndicate that no one from Rockford would be attending the service. This was not an issue of respect but rather based on fear that FBI would have a surveillance team on hand.
In 1973, Zammuto eased out of the boss's seat. The FBI reports that during this year that Frank Buscemi had wrestled control of the Rockford rackets but this wasn't really the case. Zammuto merely preferred spending long winters in Ft. Lauderdale and would assume a role as a dual consigliere alongside Joe Zito. Zammuto would permanently fill this role following the death of Zito in 1981. The Zito funeral is noteworthy because the FBI clearly photographed Buscemi, Zammuto and Joseph Aiuppa of the Chicago Outfit in attendance.
Although semi-retired Zammuto was not far from the action nor the politics. In December 1972, Joe Maggio was convicted in a bizarre case involving mail fraud and boat registration. Along with James F. Schwartz of Rockford and William E. Blake of Michigan City, IN, Maggio had attempted to form a scheme under the name United States Merchant Marine that involved boat owners submitting a fee for registration. The case was largely built on an informer's testimony. The informer then provided proof that Maggio somehow was under the belief that a national agency would allow him to access FBI records. Maggio was ultimately convicted of seven counts of mail fraud. This brazen attempt to access secret national records quickly came to the attention of the Rockford crime family.
The Pizza Connection and Death
Beginning in the 1970s Sicilian immigrants started showing up in southern Michigan, Rockford and the surrounding areas. What the authorities would not know until nearly 12 years later and following a marathon federal trial known as the 'Pizza Connection Case' was that a massive heroin pipeline that flowed from Sicily to the northeastern United States and into the midwest started taking root. The immigrants or 'zips' as they were called laundered the illegal dollars through pizza shops from heroin trafficking and sent them back to Sicily. One zip in particular, Pietro Alfano, operated a pizzeria out of Oregon, IL and was the nephew to Gaetano Badalamenti, mafia boss from Cinisi, Sicily.
Zammuto was relaxing in Ft. Lauderdale in the fall and winter of 1979 and the FBI noted several Rockford mobsters began visiting him in February 1980. On April 6, 1980 Winnebago County deputies found Maggio dead in the backseat of his car. He had been executed with one bullet to the head shot at close range. Authorities believe that the Ft. Lauderdale meetings with Zammuto were for his approval to murder Maggio. On an interesting note, deputies found $25,000 on Maggio. It was believed to have been left there on purpose for his grieving widow to claim. To date there has never been a suspect named in the Maggio case.
Zammuto would continue on as consigliere. Later in life he held the position in name only and in May 1990 passed away from natural causes while in living in Rockford.