Sam Pieri

Sam Pieri in 1975

Salvatore Pieri (born Jan. 29, 1911, - died Aug. 24, 1981) was a high ranking mobster in the Buffalo crime family.


Pieri was born in Buffalo to Sicilian immigrants Giovanni and Ignazia Ciresi Pieri who hailed from Montemaggiore Belsito, Sicily. Giovanni entered the U.S. on April 20, 1893. Ignazia entered July 1, 1898 and were married in 1900. Sam was the seventh of nine children born to the couple. He first ran into trouble with the law when he was just 10 years old. He was arrested Aug. 7, 1921, for malicious mischief. His rap sheet included arrests for Grand larceny, truancy, second-degree larceny, first-degree robbery, bootlegging and tariff violations and for violating the Brownell Law.

Pieri and brothers John and Joe became members of the DiCarlo Gang. Working for their brother-in-law Joseph DiCarlo they extorted payments from operators of craps games and bookmaking parlors. On Jan. 23, 1934, Pieri married Caroline LoTempio. DiCarlo Gangster and future Cleveland crime family boss John Tronolone was Pieri's best man. Pieri earned the respect of western New York crime boss Stefano Magaddino the following year, as he imposed mob discipline upon a relative. The LoTempio brothers, Pieri cousins, were believed responsible for a May 1936 bombing that took the life of Magaddino's sister. The LoTempios were rebelling against a Magaddino-imposed tax on their gambling rackets. Pieri arranged for Frank LoTempio to attend the wedding of a relative in Buffalo. Following the reception, Pieri escorted LoTempio to his car. After a short conversation, Pieri shook LoTempio's hand and turned away. Two men emerged from a nearby parked vehicle and shot LoTempio to death.

The 1949 disappearance of gambler Patsy Quigliano was also linked to Pieri. Quigliano was deeply in debt to mob higher-ups, and Pieri reportedly was to transport him to meet with Joseph DiCarlo in Cleveland on the day he disappeared. In the early 1950s, a three-year Federal Bureau of Narcotics investigation pointed to Sam Pieri and Salvatore Rizzo as the regional leaders of a heroin and cocaine smuggling ring involving Buffalo, New York City and Cleveland. Pieri and Rizzo were arrested May 22, 1954. Charges against Rizzo were dismissed. Pieri was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in Atlanta Federal Prison. He was released May 7, 1963.

Leader of dissident mob faction

The prison term enhanced Pieri's stature in the underworld. Within the institution's walls, he established strong relationships with members of the Profaci and Genovese crime family and became especially close to jailed crime boss Vito Genovese. Upon Pieri's release, law enforcement officials wondered if he might become more powerful than Magaddino underboss Frederico Randaccio or possibly Magaddino himself. The Magaddino organization was staggered by the imprisonment of Buffalo underworld leaders Randaccio and Pasquale Natarelli in December of 1967. Pieri and DiCarlo took advantage of the situation, mobilizing elements of the old DiCarlo Gang to take control of gambling rackets in Buffalo.

Claiming there had been a dramatic drop-off in underworld revenues, Magaddino imposed additional taxes on his men, refused to assist in gambling racket financing and eliminated bonuses he had previously paid to his lieutenants. In November 1968, Magaddino was proved a liar, as federal agents discovered nearly a half-million dollars in cash hidden in a wall of his son Peter's home. The events of the 1960s drove a wedge between Buffalo Mafiosi and the organization's Niagara Falls-based leadership. In July 1969, a rebel Mafia faction in Buffalo selected Pieri as its acting boss, Joseph Fino as its acting underboss and Joseph DiCarlo as its acting consigliere. When informants brought the news to the FBI, Pieri became the Bureau's top target in Buffalo.

Pieri, Anthony Romano and Ralph Jacobs stood trial in 1970 for transporting stolen jewelry. As the state was concluding its case, authorities heard evidence that Pieri had attempted to bribe a juror. A mistrial was declared, and Pieri was charged with obstruction of justice. He was convicted of jury tampering and sentenced to five years in federal prison. When paroled in December 1973, Pieri immediately returned to his top position in the Buffalo Crime Family. Capodecina John Cammilleri's brief challenge to Pieri's leadership ended with Cammilleri's murder on May 8, 1974. The FBI's next move against the Pieri administration consisted of inserting an undercover agent into two Buffalo gambling clubs that featured high-stakes Ziganette card games. As a result of the investigation, Pieri was found in violation of his parole and returned to prison to complete his jury tampering sentence.

Upon his release, Pieri found federal authorities ready to try him for conspiracy and gambling in connection with the Ziganette parlors. Pieri eventually pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced to a year in prison. Securing his release after four months, Pieri sought to reestablish discipline in a criminal organization that had been shaken by informants and law enforcement infiltration. The May 1980 murder of William "Billy" Sciolino, a mob informant, was intended as an example. Less than a month later, the partly decomposed body of Carl Rizzo was found in the trunk of a car. Rizzo was initially suspected of also being an informant, but investigators learned he had been involved in a Pieri-sponsored racket related to union dental plans. Pieri's hold on the Buffalo crime family was weakened with the October 1980 death of Joseph DiCarlo, Jr. DiCarlo provided continuity during Pieri's prison sentence and conferred legitimacy upon Pieri's leadership claims.

Pieri passed away Aug. 24, 1981, at the age of 70.

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.