“Bump,” “The Bomp,” “El Bompo,” “The Bump,” “Bompy,” “The Cigar.” Nobody who knew Frank Bompensiero called him by those names. “If you were a friend or family member,” said Bompensiero’s daughter Mary Ann, “you called my father Frank or Uncle Frank. If you knew him only casually, you addressed him as Mr. Bompensiero. His mother called him figlio mio, ‘son of mine.’ And because as a boy his hair was pure blond, he also got called, by family and people in the neighborhood, figlio d'oro, ‘son of gold.’ But nobody except the police and newspapers and television reporters ever called my father by those absurd names.” Mary Ann sneered, then, as she said, “Bomp, Bompy, the Cigar, El Bompo,” and added, “No one would have dared.”
The name “Bomp” encourages caricature. Ovid Demaris’s The Last Mafioso: The Treacherous World of Jimmy Fratianno portrays Bompensiero as an almost comic figure, a foul-mouthed Falstaffian cigar-puffing ruffian, a fat-bellied gunman whose every other word is “fuck.” Jay Robert Nash in his World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime begins his entry on Bompensiero with this: “Bompensiero, Frank (AKA: Bomp), 1905-77, U.S. A shifty, backstabbing character.” Carl Sifakis, following Nash’s and Demaris’s leads, in The Mafia Encyclopedia writes: “In the treacherous world of Mafia hit men, few characters proved shiftier than Frank ‘Bomp’ Bompensiero.... For decades regarded as one of the most efficient hit men in the West Coast mob, Bompensiero was an expert in the so-called Italian rope trick, a surprise garroting that always left the dying victim with a surprised look on his face.... For double-dealing, Bompensiero was without peer."
In an elegiac mode, then-San Diego Evening Tribune columnist Neil Morgan turned Bompensiero into a Disneyesque troll whom he called Bompy. Morgan wrote the day after Bompensiero died:
“VIGNETTE: One night in 1955 at a restaurant here a bottle of champagne arrived at my table with a note: ‘No hard feelings.’ Across the room I saw Frank Bompensiero with his family. It was a farewell dinner on the night before he began a five-year prison term for bribery in a liquor license case. I’d broken the story in this column, tracing the origin of a license issued first to a non-address in a San Diego cemetery and then to Bompensiero at a Third Avenue bar with reputed Mafia connections. I sent the champagne away but went by his table to thank ‘Bompy’ and wish him well. It wits the last time I saw him until we were alone in an elevator at 8 o’clock one morning last week in a medical building at 2850 Sixth Avenue. He quickly put out his hand with his old bright smile: ‘I’m just an old man now, Mister Neil,’ he said. ‘No harm. No trouble. Just an old man.’ They tell us we are free of organized crime in San Diego. Last night, on the sidewalk near his apartment in a quiet part of Pacific Beach, police found Bompy’s body in a pool of blood.”
Many aspects of what I read about the mob trouble me. What troubles me most is that the books’ principal figures appear to have scant life outside thuggery. They may dazzle women, bet on horses, evade the FBI, but they remain one-dimensional. Reading about mob figures, you would think that all they did was plot the next union takeover, the next bribing of a judge, the next mob battle, and stir up a pot of spaghetti sauce when they went to the mattresses. These men inhabited lives as lavish with mundane detail as do any of us. They had “meaningful” relationships apart from their criminal connections. But you will read little about this.
Yet, try to learn about a mobster’s family life! Even years after a husband or brother or grandfather has died, widows and sisters and grandsons greet one’s gaze with terror — or, rage — when one mentions the late family member. The elderly sister of a San Diego “crime” name, after a lengthy interview embroidered with intimate detail, claimed that she could not tell me her maiden name. “It’s confidential," she whispered, “confidential.”
Ten years ago, when I became interested in Bompensiero, I telephoned Mary Ann and asked if I might interview her. She began to cry. She said that even though her father had been dead, by then, for more than a decade, that just the thought of him — gunned down in an alley in Pacific Beach — caused her to weep. She said, kindly, in the midst of throaty sobs, “No, honey, I just can’t talk about my dad. I’m sorry.”
I didn’t feel good about that telephone call.
I went on to other things. Yet I always came back to Bompensiero. I would sit on my living room carpet and sort newspaper clippings. I gazed at photographs of Bompensiero sitting outside the Los Angeles federal courtroom, waiting to testify before the Kefauver Committee. He wore a dark gray suit, white shirt, and dark tie with white polka dots. The face that gazed back at me out of that photograph seemed almost sweet, and the mouth ready, any moment, to smile. I wondered what he thought that day. I wondered if he were rehearsing his testimony or deciding where he’d eat dinner in Los Angeles before driving back to San Diego. I walked many times into the lobby of the U.S. Grant and tried to imagine Bompensiero strolling across the polished floors. His bar, the Gold Rail, had been just across the street from the Grant. I walked — many times — past the block where the Gold Rail had been and tried to imagine that block before the buildings were tom down and the Westgate built. I found houses where he’d lived and sat outside them. I went many times to lunch at Tarantino’s, where Bompensiero ate almost daily during the last ten years of his life. I sat at the table reputed to be his, a table in the bar area that offered a view out onto the bay. I went to mass in the church where his sisters were married, his wife eulogized, his mother remembered. I visited San Quentin. I went on several February nights and stood where he stood when they killed him. I went to Holy Cross Mausoleum where he and his first wife are interred. The last time I went, I left flowers. More precisely, I left Parma violets — the strongly scented purple flowers wrapped in a white paper cone and tied with a purple ribbon.
On my computer I skimmed files of transcripts of taped interviews I conducted with retired lawmen and lawyers and judges and elderly Sicilians who knew Bompensiero. I began this so long ago that many people with whom I talked have died or suffered heart attacks or crippling strokes. I reread letters I had written to retired lawmen and elderly Sicilians, asking for interviews. Most of the letters were not answered. Several people did answer; they said no. In unpleasant fits of temper I had balled up those responses and tossed them out.
I read and reread trial transcripts. I studied hundreds of pages involved with probating Mary Ann’s mother’s estate. I ran my finger down lists of the inventory of the dress shop her mother owned when she died in 1955. I imagined what Mary Ann must have gone through — her mother dead, her father in prison — as she tried to save her mother’s shop and the family home.
Every time a new Mafia book arrived in bookstores, I flipped to the back and looked for Bompensiero’s name in the index. The rare times that the name appeared, all I found in the text was this fat-bellied, loud-mouthed caricature, this Bomp. He was always employing the old Italian rope trick, he was always gunning down Hooky Rothman and missing Mickey Cohen, he was always smoking his “big cigar,” he was always saying “fuck.”
He did smoke big cigars. A San Diego lawyer recalled, “Bompensiero smoked those big Berings, big round things about seven inches long. Like the Bering Immensas that you see now. Hell, maybe they were Bering Immensas that he smoked. Cigar store there on the comer of Third and Broadway, on the northwest corner, just three doors down from where his Gold Rail had been, sold them in the old days. He gave me a Bering at the racetrack one time. Back then, those things cost maybe 50 cents apiece, maybe a dollar. At the time you could get Santa Fe’s for a nickel, a dime. He loved a cigar, though, he sure did.”
After the day I called Mary Ann, I let five years go by. I decided, then, that I’d try one more time. I found Mary Ann’s address. I wrote to her. I explained that I wanted to write something about her father that would not be all Mafia, Mafia, Mafia. I wrote that I had read books where her father appeared; I complained that I found “not one redeeming word anywhere.” I wrote that I wanted to write the redeeming words. I begged Mary Ann to give me the opportunity to speak with her. "Please, please, please," I said, and dropped the letter into a mailbox.
Weeks passed, maybe two weeks, maybe three. Mary Ann called. Much had happened since the day we briefly talked. Her husband had died. She had retired from the job she held for two decades. She felt able to at least try to talk about her father. We agreed that I would come to her house.
I don’t know what Mary Ann felt on the morning I was to arrive. I felt blessed. When a writer finds herself deeply interested in a story subject, that subject becomes like a lover. I’d been in love from afar. At last I was going to walk into the presence of someone who at least knew and loved the lover. I brought only my tape recorder and blank tapes and a notebook. The questions were all in my head. All I had was questions.
When Mary Ann opened her wide front door, I hope that my mouth did not fall open. I was shocked. Beneath beautifully kept blond hair Bompensiero’s face greeted me; the face was a feminine, softened version, but nevertheless, his face. Later, Mary Ann would tell me that indeed she did look so much like her father that relatives often called her Little Frankie.
Our first meeting took place in the midst of a late summer heat wave. At nine in the morning the air already felt hot. Mary Ann wore a beige silk camp shirt and beige silk Bermuda-length shorts. She had a young woman’s figure and a young woman’s legs and a young woman’s smooth hands. She drew me into the cool, airy house where she’s lived since 1957, the house where her father came when he got out of San Quentin in 1960. The ample bedroom where he had slept in those days was being occupied, Mary Ann said, by a granddaughter who was attending college nearby. She showed me through the rooms. She pointed out family photographs. She indicated a lovely sofa that had been her mother’s. Mary Ann poured coffee. We sat down at the round kitchen table where her father sat early in the morning and drank his coffee — “Lots of cream,” she said. “He liked lots of cream. Every morning before he went anywhere else, he visited his mother. She always poured lots of cream into his coffee.”
Mary Ann and I talked for many days. We looked at family photographs. Mary Ann said that she never knew much about her father’s business life. “We never did. I remember that he used to say to my mother, ‘What you don’t know, honey, they’ — he must have meant the police — ‘can’t ask you.’ That was how it was all his life. When my daughter Santa was still a young girl, after my dad got out of San Quentin, a little friend of hers asked her, ‘What does your grandfather do?’ Santa said, ‘We never ask Papa what he’s doing or where he goes. We don’t ask Papa any questions like that.’ ”
An only child, Mary Ann had been protected, even cosseted, by her parents. The family’s social life revolved around Mary Ann’s family’s families. The only “connected" people with whom Mary Ann’s mother and Mary Ann were brought into contact were upper-echelon people — the Dragnas, Adamos, Frank La Porte, Leo Moceri, Johnny Rosselli, Frank Coppola, and other men and their wives from Kansas City and Chicago and Cleveland and Detroit whose names Mary Ann no longer remembered. When Mary Ann was a youngster, the Dragnas — Jack and his brother Tom and their wives and children — were almost as close as blood family. Mary Ann recalled only once meeting the Licatas, at a horse ranch that she believed they owned. She recalled meeting Frank Desimone on several occasions and recalled, too, that from girlhood on, she had not liked him. She frowned when I broached his name.
Mary Ann mentioned that “people from Chicago and Detroit and Cleveland, when their sons or daughters got married, often sent them out here to California for a honeymoon. My dad would entertain them. We’d have dinners at Tops or in the Mississippi Room at Imig Manor or later, for the time my father owned it, at the Algiers.”
Mary Ann didn’t always know her father’s friends by the name that appeared on police blotters and in FBI files and newspapers. One afternoon as we sat in the shade by Mary Ann’s pool, we talked and idly flipped through a stack of papers I’d brought. “There’s Uncle Jimmy,” Mary Ann said, pointing to the photograph of a man with large lips. “No,” I said, “that’s Leo Moceri, ‘Leo the Lip’ they called him because of his big lips.”
Mary Ann knew that, she said. But, as a youngster, she was taught to call Leo Moceri “Uncle Jimmy” and Mrs. Moceri “Aunt Sally.” Sally’s name in fact was Marie. She was a tiny, gorgeous woman, said Mary Ann. She’d been a dancer. Perhaps a ballet dancer. Then Mary Ann laughed as she would many times, and added, “Maybe she was a chorus girl. Who knows?” Moceri was a member of the Sicilian and Jewish Cleveland underworld. In the early 1930s, he became aligned with Detroit bootleggers from the old Detroit Purple Gang who were attempting to gain control of Toledo, Ohio, illegal liquor sales. Moceri teamed up with a Detroit group that induded Yonnie Licavoli, a dropout from a Christian Brothers college (Yonnie had been headed for the priesthood). In the midst of the gang war for control of Toledo, Licavoli and Moceri and eight of their companions shot and killed bootlegger/beer baron Jackie Kennedy, Kennedy’s girlfriend, and three other men. Licavoli, together with four other gangsters, was sentenced to life in prison. Moceri escaped and went on the lam. He spent much of his time in California, and much of the time he spent in California, he spent in San Diego, jawboning with his old friend Bompensiero. Quite how the two men met, we will never know. Probably, they met through Dragna. Moceri and Bompensiero in 1937 did the messy Les Brunemann killing together. Moceri was old school, born, like Bompensiero, at the turn of the century. He was what younger mafiosi might call an “old mustache”: he believed in the old ways. He was one of the few men with whom Bompensiero did “underworld” business who was invited into Bompensiero’s home.
Michael J. Zuckcrman writes in Vengeance Is Mine: Jimmy the Weasel Fratianno Tells How He Brought the Kiss of Death to the Mafia: “Moceri wasn’t merely a colorful Cleveland native. The man was a national legend. He had been suspected of murders committed throughout Ohio and on both coasts without ever being convicted. Most important, he was respected in every American mob stronghold.”
Given what a small world the underworld is, or, was, Jimmy Fratianno, when he went to the Ohio State Penitentiary in 1938, came under the protective arm of Moceri’s old friend Yonnie Licavoli. When Fratianno came out to California in 1946, it was in part through Licavoli’s recommendation that Johnny Rosselli suggested Fratianno to Dragna as an LA family member. And because Fratianno became an LA family member, he met Bompensiero.
Every life Fratianno touched, he dirtied. Fratianno was a spoiler. He was as treacherous a friend as he was an enemy. I’ve never understood why Bompensiero in his later years permitted himself to become involved with Fratianno. But he did. Fratianno wasn’t Sicilian. He was born near Naples, Italy, in 1913. He was one of the non-Sicilian men “made” in the years after World War II, when the passage of years and underworld battles had obliged leaders like Pragna to initiate first- and even second-generation Neapolitans. Fratianno died not long ago, after suffering with Alzheimer’s. When you think of all that Fratianno might have remembered, that disease’s forgetfulness can only have been God’s mercy. Mary Ann says, about Fratianno, “He had the reputation that he would kill his own mother, Fratianno did."
At some point in 1965, 60-year-old Bompensiero, finished with his five years’ parole, got entangled in Fratianno’s trucking business. Fratianno’s wife Jewel, a pure platinum blonde but not a dumb blonde, oversaw the business out of the Fratiannos’ Sacramento home. Under Jewel Fratianno’s stewardship, this business ran on the up-and-up. Unlike the myriad Fratianno scams, the trucking business, for its first five years, dependably made money.
Fratianno obtained a contract in El Centro, where the state was building a 4.7-mile bypass for Interstate 8. The bypass was to run from Imperial Avenue to State Highway 111. Demaris explains this contract in The Last Mafioso. “It began routinely enough. Another trucking broker, Fred ReCupido, asked Jimmy to join him as a sub-hauler for Miles and Sons, the prime contractor, in the moving of two and a half million tons of earth for the construction of a freeway bypass in El Centro.... Jimmy put Bompensiero on the payroll at $150 per week and provided him with a leased automobile. One of his jobs was to ride up and down the highways to make sure the drivers kept moving at top speed. But mostly he was there as a companion for La Porte whenever he was in California and as a sounding board for Jimmy.”
A retired policeman who knew Bompensiero and Fratianno once said to me, “Fratianno didn’t have the class Bompensiero had. Bompensiero was a nice person. Fratianno wasn’t.”
A retired FBI agent who knew Fratianno in person and Bompensiero by reputation told me, “I think Frank and Jimmy were very close. They were both old school. They were real hustlers. I suspect they spent a lot of time talking about how to hustle a buck. Frank was not a womanizer. Jimmy was. Frank enjoyed his pasta and that was about all. I believe that in his early days Frank did participate in several killings with Jimmy. I do believe that. I think that Frank, later in life, had somewhat mellowed, but Jimmy respected him in the sense of Frank’s being a fearful figure. I don’t think Jimmy would have gone out of his way to cross Frank. And you have to remember that Jimmy was cautious but not particularly scared of anyone. I seem to vaguely remember that Frank always kept a bankroll in the house. He would have been one of those few people that Jimmy wouldn’t take it away from. Jimmy always spoke of Frank with great affection. But he spoke of him only in passing, because while Jimmy loved to tell stories, Jimmy liked most to talk about himself.”
Mary Ann and I tried to figure why her father got mixed up in Fratianno’s company. I had a theory about why Fratianno wanted Bompensiero’s help. To fulfill the El Centro contract, Fratianno needed more trucks; to obtain more trucks he needed more money. Through Bompensiero, Fratianno was able to insinuate himself into the wealthy Frank La Porte’s pockets. La Porte, for $304,000, purchased trucks to put into the El Centro job.
Why did Bompensiero wish to involve himself with Fratianno’s trucking business in the hot, isolated little farming community of El Centro, population in those days, about 24,000? Why was he willing, week after week, to make that 120-mile drive along winding U.S. Highway 80 between San Diego and El Centro, a drive that could take as long as three hours? When I told Mary Ann how much Fratianno paid her father, she said, “Well, it wasn’t just for the money, then.” She added, “He did have to show income, so that may have been part of it. But also, my father wasn’t the retiring type that would sit at home and take little fishing trips with Marie! No way in hell! Maybe he just wanted something at that point to do that got him out of the house. He couldn’t stand to just sit around.”
Her father, Mary Ann said, was aware that the FBI and local police kept an eye on him. He and other “underworld” figures also knew that law enforcement personnel lingered at the edges of family weddings and funerals, taking names and jotting down license plate numbers. Many avoided these occasions, for just that reason.
In the 1960s the San Diego office of the FBI was at 3211 Fifth Avenue, not far from Balboa Park and Mister A’s. How many agents were stationed in San Diego and what their assignments were, I do not know. El Centro had two resident FBI agents during this period. But, apparently, they were not agents working what). Edgar Hoover, in 1958, had dubbed the Top Hoodlum Program, as the memos I acquired through the Freedom of Information Act all originate from the San Diego office. At least two San Diego FBI SA’s — special agents — took a particular interest in San Diego’s “top hoodlums.” These agents, I believe, were the men who wrote and filed surveillance reports of which I have copies.
On January 25, 1966, two FBI agents took a room at the Padre Trail Inn, in El Centro, next door to the rooms occupied by Fratianno and Bompensiero. Two locked doors separated Fratianno’s room and the agents’ room. The door to the agents’ room was unlocked, and therefore some conversation in Fratianno’s room could be heard through the remaining locked door.
The agents apparently stood with ears pressed against this locked door. On the night of January 26, 1966, the agents heard Fratianno make a call in his room to Frank La Porte. Fratianno gave La Porte detailed advice regarding the purchase of earth-hauling equipment. He also asked if La Porte could come up with some more “scratch” to buy additional equipment. Fratianno, the agents reported, also seemed to be laughing along with La Porte, about Bompensiero, saying that “Bompensiero is worried about his loot.” Fratianno added that Bompensiero had been promised an income of $150 per trailer, which was not being paid. Fratianno, the FBI memo noted, “then laughed long and loud.”
On the morning of January 27, 1966, agents kept Bompensiero under surveillance. “He was observed driving to the Padre Trail Inn, where he contacted Fratianno for an hour and a half in Fratianno’s motel room. During this period of time, Fratianno, who appeared to be supervising his earth-moving subcontract work, was seen in contact with someone driving a 1955 Ford station wagon, California license ■■■■■■■ which was determined registered to ■■■■■■■ Lakewood, California, and with someone driving a 1965 Chevrolet, California license ■■■■■■■ which car is registered to the Deer Leasing Company, 1616 I Street, Sacramento, California."
The memo continued:
“At 8:55 AM on the morning of January 27, 1966, Bompensiero joined Fratianno in his motel room, where they talked for 45 minutes. Fratianno was in the bathroom shaving and getting dressed, and only portions of conversation could be overheard. Fratianno referred to La Porte having $300,000 invested in tractors, trailers, and apparently other earth-moving equipment. Fratianno believes that La Porte will lose money on such an investment, and repeatedly made the remark that La Porte would get hurt. He seemed to blame ■■■■■■■■ for talking ■■■■■■■■ into purchasing all this equipment. Fratianno believed it would be wiser to sell much of this equipment now while they have the opportunity, working on some type of large construction jobs coming up in the near future.
“During this conversation, Bompensiero mentioned to Fratianno that he was going to fly to San Francisco for the weekend of 1/29-30/66, and that he expected to return to San Diego on 1/30/66. He talked about meeting ■■■■■■■■ and that ■■■■■■■■ had an important meeting coming up over the weekend with some union people. In this connection, Bompensiero was heard to remark that they have known him for 35 years, and he has never gone back on his word.
“Later in the conversation, Bompensiero indicated to Fratianno that one reason he was going to San Francisco was to contact someone there who now has a lot of money and is connected with television and owns a ‘string of TV...’ He told Fratianno this person had been in prison with him.
“Bompensiero was to fly to San Francisco via Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 111 on 1/28/66. Bompensiero [and Marie] flew under the alias Gavin.”
After Marie Adamo Gavin’s husband Patrick Gavin died, Bompensiero sometimes used Gavin’s last name. He also on occasion told strangers that he was a retired military man. Telephoning friends or leaving messages for them, he might say, ‘This is the Colonel.”
The FBI was waiting when Bompensiero and Marie arrived at the San Francisco airport. Angelo Marino, owner and founder of the California Cheese Company, accompanied by his wife, Precious, for whom Marino named his brand of ricotta cheese, met the Bompensieros at the airport. The four then drove to the Marinos’ residence in San Jose, left off Precious (from whom Marino, later that year, would be divorced) and Marie, and then drove to Paolo’s Restaurant in San Jose.
After leaving the restaurant, Bompensiero and Marino, the FBI report noted, “drove to the Continental TV Company, 3585 Stevens Creek Boulevard, Santa Clara, California. They remained at this location for approximately one hour. After leaving the Continental TV Company, they traveled to the Rocky Roost Lodging House at 145 North 13th Street in San Jose, where they were greeted by the management. Bompensiero brought in his suitcase and apparently planned to stay at that location. The surveillance was then discontinued.”
I sometimes telephoned Mary Ann and read her sections of these FBI reports. We puzzled over blacked-out sections, wondering to whom the FBI referred and what, for instance, her father did at the Continental TV Company. The mention of the Rocky Roost Lodging House left Mary Ann laughing. We tried to imagine what sort of place it was and why her father had chosen to stay there.
Bompensiero was back home on Reed Avenue by February 7. The FBI continued its surveillance. On the evening of February 11, Frank La Porte showed up. For two days agents watched the apartment. And then, according to an FBI memo:
“On the morning of February 13, 1966, La Porte and Bompensiero, while under surveillance, drove to nearby La Jolla, where they met with the following described person:
Weight: 155 to 160
Hair Black and wavy
Age: Approximately 35 to 40
“This individual was driving a 1966 Lincoln Continental, black vinyl top with grayish-bronze-colored, metallic-painted bottom. The car had temporary California license ■■■■■■■■ and from the license bracket it appeared to have been purchased through the Star Motor Company in Glendale, California.
“Bompensiero and La Porte joined this unknown person in his Lincoln Continental, and they drove around La Jolla for 45 minutes and then parked outside a beauty parlor operated by ■■■■■■■■.
“This was on Sunday morning, and all establishments were closed; however, the unknown person had a key to the beauty parlor. He apparently conferred in the beauty parlor with La Porte and Bompensiero for about an hour. Upon leaving, the unknown person drove away in his Lincoln Continental and was lost in traffic. La Porte and Bompensiero continued driving around La Jolla, apparently sight seeing.”
This beauty parlor in fact was a two-chair barbershop, owned by Harry Bianconi. A gentleman who owned a nearby gas station often went into the shop to pass the time. He recalled meeting Bompensiero there shortly after Bompensiero got out of prison in 1960. Harry Bianconi, previous to his shop in La Jolla, had barbered in shops all over town. “The U.S. Grant, the old El Cortez. They kicked him out of the old El Cortez because he talked too much. He was quite a talker,” my informant remembered. He added that Bianconi was “one of those guys who would have liked to have been a mafioso, I think. These guys were a role model to him. Harry once told me that when he got out of the Army, that that’s how he knew La Porte. He went to work for him in Chicago dealing cards.”
Soon after Bompensiero came out of prison, he began visiting the barbershop. “Bompensiero,” the gas station owner recalled, “was a very pleasant guy. He was a gentleman. Always dressed up nice and neat. Necktie. Clean-shaven. Always perfumed up a little bit. He was pretty dapper. He was smooth-skinned, red-faced. Thin up on top. He was very trim too. I understand that he used to be quite heavy but when he came out of prison, he was nice and trim and in good shape. He stayed that way. Very neat with his appearance and his fingernails buffed and the big cigar. He liked to smoke that big cigar. He never talked about any of his goings on at all. He would talk a bit about sports. The weather.
“Once in a while these fellows, they’d come in from Chicago and Detroit. One guy who came in was La Porte, and another was ‘Leo the Lip’ Moceii Harry would be pretty excited. He’d say to me, ‘You want to meet these guys?’ Harry was taken in with all this stuff. It was a big thing with him.”
Had Bompensiero and La Porte driven around downtown San Diego rather than La Jolla that afternoon, they would have noticed that changes were beginning to take place. In 1966 buildings on the square block bounded by Broadway and C, Second and Third Avenues, where Bompensiero’s bars had been, were slated to be torn down. Harvey's Eat Shop, which first opened for business in 1914, was going out of business. The 37-year-old Heika Furs, on Third, where Bompensiero had bought gifts for Thelma, planned a new store at 1134 Seventh. Harold Clark talked of shifting his Saratoga Bar & Grill into the spot across the street from the U.S. Grant that had once been the home of Johnny Woo’s Magic Shop. The little Greek grocery would set up shop in a new location. Varsity Clothiers was moving. The owner of the Black & Gold Room, where for many years you could place a bet with Boots DeKyser, thought he might open a go-go club at another site. Tommy Sheng, owner of Sheng Haw Low’s, where judges and lawyers liked to eat lunch, for months held out against the wrecking ball. Finally, Tommy Sheng would give in.
Supplanting these establishments would be C. Amholt Smith’s Westgate California Corporation’s $10 million highrise hotel. “Smith,” the Union reported, “president and board chairman of Westgate-California and the bank, said the structure will be named Westgate Plaza Hotel and will tie into city plans for converting Second Avenue into a mall-like development extending from the Community Concourse toward San Diego Bay. John S. Alessio, a Westgate director and longtime friend of Smith’s, will develop Westgate management for the hotel, Smith said. Alessio interests own and operate the Kona Kai Club, Kona Inn, Fifth Avenue Financial Centre and Mister A’s restaurant.” Smith told the Union that the hotel would be “primarily for the executive trade,” with “rooms that will feature baths of marble.”
On February 18, 1966, the FBI observed in front of Bompensiero’s apartment a white Oldsmobile Toronado, Ohio license P2892A. An agent noted that in the car was “clothing on hangers.”
“Well,” said Mary Ann, when I read her the February 18 report, “that must be Uncle Jimmy — Leo Moceri. He was from Ohio.” Mary Ann told me a story, then, that her father once told her about Moceri. “Off and on, after my father got out of prison and was on parole, he would talk about Leo. ‘Leo the Lip got arrested,’ he said. ‘The dumb son-of-a-bitch, he’s so goddamn cheap. Guess why they got him? He’s using the same telephone booth day after day, and he’s so goddamn cheap he’s putting slugs in.’ So the telephone company put a detective on the booth, Leo makes a phone call, they go in and check, and they arrest him. So when they arrest him for this, they fingerprint him and they get all this other stuff. And that’s how he went to jail again for a lousy few bucks. He had a thousand dollars on him, stuffed down in his pockets.”
Surveilling agents noted that Moceri, beginning February 18, “was in constant contact with Bompensiero. Moceri went to El Centro with Bompensiero and remained there with him in his apartment, and appeared to be taking an interest in the trucking operations being supervised by Bompensiero.”
During March, Moceri and his wife were seen going out with Bompensiero and Marie. They visited “the Black Widow Nightclub in San Diego managed by ■■■■■■■■" and “on March 14, 1966, they were observed going to the Club Marina, 1310 Scott Street.” During Moceri’s stay in San Diego, “Bompensiero indicated to ■■■■■■■■ that Moceri was interested in moving to Southern California and investing in this area. Moceri offered ■■■■■■■■ $50,000 for the Coast Amusement Company, but his offer was refused as not being nearly enough.”
April 1, a Friday, the report noted that Bompensiero and Moceri “were surveilled from El Centro, California, to Bompensiero’s residence in San Diego. While under surveillance they were observed driving to the San Diego Testing Laboratory.”
Bompensiero, Fratianno, La Porte, and Moceri had invested in a gold mine located in Mexico. The FBI reported, “At the San Diego Testing Laboratory they left off several samples of ore to be tested for gold and silver content. It was determined that the ore they left was practically worthless and the best sample assayed out to 3.65 worth of gold and silver content per ton, which according to laboratory testing people is practically worthless.”
Bompensiero, by April, had moved into apartment 26A at the Jay L. Jay Apartments, El Centro, leased by the Fratianno Trucking Company. A woman who grew up in El Centro recalled the apartments and said, laughing, that they were “dumps, real dumps.” Also using the apartment, in addition to Fratianno, was Nick Diacogianis, an ex-con whom Fratianno had met when he was incarcerated at Folsom. Diacogianis served as gofer. He picked up freight tickets, gathered parts, checked to see that drivers arrived at work on time. Fratianno, by early 1966, had broken up with Jewel, and was involved with Jean Bodul, the woman whom, years later, he would marry. Bompensiero continued, every week, to drive on Monday mornings to El Centro, spend the week there, and drive back to San Diego on Friday afternoons.
Mary Ann, as we studied this period of her father’s life, remained mystified by what tasks connected with the trucking company her father might have performed. He was, she said, a terrible driver, always scraping his cars. He knew nothing about car maintenance and “nothing,” she said, “about running a trucking business.”
FBI agents persevered in eavesdropping. Transcripts show myriad telephone calls in which Fratianno and Bompensiero complained to various unknown callers about how badly the trucking business was going. La Porte had been promised a 5 percent return on his $304,000. That was not being paid. On April 6, 1966, the FBI memo noted that “At 8:43 p.m. Fratianno was heard speaking with an unknown male and was heard to say, ‘304,000 in cold cash. This is my personal friend. I’m responsible to Frank but he’s responsible for the $304,000. That’s where Frank is stuck. He’s stuck on the five percent.’ ”
April 4, 1966, Leo Moceri and his wife, the FBI surveillance report noted, stood outside Bompensiero’s Pacific Beach apartment and “were seen loading all of their clothes into his car and saying goodbye to Bompensiero. They were observed by surveying agents leaving San Diego and several hours later were observed leaving California heading east into Arizona on U.S. Highway 80."
Easter fell, in 1966, on April 10. Bompensiero returned from El Centro to San Diego for the weekend. I asked Mary Ann what the family did in those days on Easter. She said, “We would have had dinner in the afternoon. I would have baked a ham. That’s not the Italian way, I know. But, by then, that’s how I was doing things. And my father liked ham.”
Easter Monday, Bompensiero drove back to El Centro. Demaris writes, in The Last Mafioso, “After moving equipment to El Centro, at a cost of $10,000, [Fratianno] discovered that Miles and Sons was not paying the PUC (Public Utilities Commission] rate of $14 an hour for truck and driver. Instead, ReCupido had agreed to haul dirt for twenty-four cents a ton. The drivers received 30 percent of the gross earned, and to meet state and federal regulations requiring an hourly rate, the amount earned was then converted into hours. A truck and driver working ten hours would end up receiving pay for seven or eight hours. The first month on the Job, Jimmy’s company kist close to $15,000.”
FBI listeners reported:
“A great deal of talk about trucking matters. Fratianno was heard to say to Bompensiero, ‘Cheech, he’s been going around me. From the bottom of my heart, if it hadn’t been for me the Fratianno Trucks would not be working here — you know that’ Bompensiero and Fratianno were heard to mention ‘precious metals.’ Also, ‘Bar or river bed in Northern California — $1000 a ton. Trucks can’t get in there.’
“Bompensiero was heard to say, ‘3000 pounds a day. I want something for the wife.... A little plant and a dump truck. I could make $75 to $100 a day. It would probably cost $10 a day for labor and a truck. Less than that in Mexico.... One of those Portland generators that work on gravity. You pick it up and it just washes away. Need plenty of water.’ ”
I asked Mary Ann about Fratianno’s use of the name “Cheech” to address her father. “Cheech,” she explained, “is a way in Italian, or the Sicilian version of Italian, to say Frank. And,” Mary Ann added, “if you call someone ‘Cheecheriado,’ that’s a particular term of endearment. When I was little, because I looked so much like my father, my aunt Annie, my mother’s sister, used to call me ‘my little Cheecheriada,’ which meant ‘my little Frankie.’ ”
The FBI memo continued, mentioning more talk about trucking operations. Late in the evening, agents heard Bompensiero on the telephone. “We got trucks breaking down. Some OL trucks (Orange Line Trucking Company of Huntington Beach, California, operated by Fred ReCupido] and some of yours. How should I know? I’m not a truck man. We need more trucks.... Starts tomorrow at the Desert Inn.” The listening agent hypothesized that Bompensiero referred to the Tournament of Champions Golf Match, to be played the next weekend in Vegas.
I asked Mary Ann if her father showed interest in golf. Mary Ann guffawed. She could not imagine that her father had any interest in golf. “He would never play golf. All the doctors told him, ‘Frank, you got to get some exercise.’ And he said, to us, talking to us with that big cigar in his mouth, ‘All those doctors, they drop dead on the golf course of a heart attack.’ And then he would laugh like hell. He’d say, ‘Daughter of mine, I am going to live to be 105. Me and J.C., we talk all the time.' But golf? My father was not interested in golf.”
Easter week, according to conversation overheard by FBI agents, was hellish for Fratianno’s trucking business. Bompensiero is quoted as saying, on the telephone, “Everything goes to the shop. They don’t fix anything themselves. I don’t know how they make a business pay. But that’s going to change because my buddy from Chicago Frank La Porte is flying down Monday.” Bompensiero added that he was “running with a bunch of lunatics.” But La Porte, he said, “will straighten this thing out.
At 5:40 a.m., Monday, the agents overheard Bompensiero in the apartment, talking with Diacogianis. Bompensiero, irritated with Fratianno, "exclaimed in agitated tones” that Fratianno wanted to take La Porte to Reno, “but La Porte wants to come here and see me. Fratianno wants to keep La Porte away from the trucks because he doesn’t want La Porte to see them. La Porte hasn’t seen the trucks since he bought them in Chino. Why should Fratianno want to go to Reno? The last time he was in Reno it cost him $10,000. I told Fratianno he better be down here on Monday or Tuesday. But he said he was trying to get a job in Reno.”
The FBI listener observed that “Bompensiero then used obscene terms in regard to Fratianno and ‘that Prince of Wales’ ” — perhaps a reference to Johnny Rosselli — and that Bompensiero, “again in obscene terms,” accused Fratianno of “trying to trick La Porte.”
Bompensiero was home on Friday, April 15. Agents watched. Saturday, they followed him to the Mission Valley Inn Hotel, where he joined La Porte and La Porte’s nephew-bodyguard in the cocktail lounge. La Porte was “traveling with a blonde female, approximately thirty-eight, and a white male approximately forty-five, of Italian appearance. Monday, April 18, Bompensiero drove them all to El Centro where they checked into the TraveLodge Motel.”
Agents overheard talk about gold and trucking. Bompensiero is reported as saying to La Porte, apparently about their gold mine efforts, “It’s a long-range investment, Frank. Some months you will make money, other months you may go in the hole. It’s like Jimmy Fratianno over there. If you’re in legitimate business, it’s hard to make good money.”
After several days at the TraveLodge, “spending,” the FBI agents noted, “the day around the swimming pool,” La Porte, his “blonde female,” and his bodyguard, on April 24, “traveled via Bonanza Airlines from El Centro to San Diego where they checked into rooms 200 and 221 at the Mission Valley Inn. They were picked up at the San Diego airport by Bompensiero.”
On the afternoon of April 25, Bompensiero was back in El Centro. He chatted on the telephone about trucking operations. He made reservations. under Gavin, for “two doubles and a single at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas for the coming weekend of April 30 to May 1, 1966.” Later, Bompensiero called Vegas again, making reservations for Hello, Dolly. Bompensiero then dialed the person for whom he had made reservations, saying, “Be sure you thank ■■■■■■■■ for the tickets.”
Mary Ann said that during this period when she and her girlfriends wanted to go to Vegas, her father made arrangements for them. “I got comped many times. I was always comped at the Sands and then, later, at the Dunes. My dad rarely went to Vegas. I don’t think he was allowed at Vegas.” The Hello, Dolly tickets, she said, “weren’t for me. Sinatra, that was my thing in those days. Frankie. That’s who I went to see.”
Bart Sheela remembered that about this time Bompensiero came to see him. Sheela was no longer working in the DA’s office and had opened his own practice. “Bompensiero said, ‘I need some help. The FBI is putting pressure on me to talk to them.’ He asked me to go with him and I did. I think he paid me 50 bucks. I went with him up to Fifth Avenue, at the comer of Fifth and Spruce where the FBI office used to be. I said, ‘Look, he doesn’t know anything, he doesn’t want to talk to you about anything.’ And then we left and he thanked me and that was that.”
The FBI, in its April report on Bompensiero, wrote of that visit:
“Subject interviewed 4/30/66 at San Diego and made statements concerning his present employment. Admitted money in Co-op Trucking put up by Frank La Porte of Chicago. Subject hopes to receive 20% interest in Co-op Trucking upon completion of payments to Chicago bank on purchase of trucks. Subject accompanied by his attorney and questions put to him limited mostly to his present activities.”
Bompensiero on Monday, May 2, returned to El Centro. Tuesday afternoon, about noon, driving the Pontiac Grand Prix, Bompensiero left El Centro, drove to Palm Springs, and picked up Fratianno. They drove to Los Angeles and thence back to El Centro, arriving at 12:35 a.m. A woman knocked on their door, and asked for her money. The FBI report noted, “She told them they owed her $1.50 an hour for five hours (apparently for cleaning their apartment). They asked her to get them a rollaway bed. Woman departed 1:18 a.m. and the apartment remained quiet until 5:40 a.m. At 6:21 a.m. Bompensiero and Fratianno left in the Pontiac.”
From the FBI surveillance report, it appears that Bompensiero spent much of this day in company with Nick Diacogianis, Fratianno, and a girl named Sandy. Sandy, riding with “a guy who owns the Cal-Neva,” had come to El Centro to visit Fratianno. At 9:18 a.m., Bompensiero and Fratianno and Sandy arrived back in the Jay L. Jay Apartments. At some point Diacogianis arrived. Fratianno took and placed telephone calls. While Fratianno was on the phone, Bompensiero chatted with Sandy, who began to tell Bompensiero her problems. Fratianno finished his calls and joined the conversation. He suggested to Sandy, “You get your girlfriend. We’ll need girls around to take care of things.” Bompensiero suggested, then, that they have a spaghetti dinner that evening.
“Fratianno and Bompensiero,” the FBI report stated, “then made numerous inferences to sex and made a lot of laughter and giggling. Bompensiero talked of Mexican girls hustling for $5.00. Fratianno was heard to say that he is against girls hustling but sees nothing wrong with girls making a little extra money on the side. Fratianno stated that he has a girl in Sacramento whom he ‘sees’ but she is not a prostitute. Bompensiero stated love has nothing to do with it and the two most important things are ‘number one money and number two sex and that if a girl can make money on the side and her husband will never know, unless she tells him, she can run the house and pay the bills, etc., and that lots of girls do it.’ ”
All through the day, the telephone rang. Bompensiero and Fratianno gassed with various people about truck tires and trucking equipment. Fratianno telephoned his wife Jewel. People came and went. Bompensiero got into and out of the Pontiac, taking people here and there. Finally, about two in the afternoon, everyone left the apartment. Bompensiero took a nap. By four, Fratianno and crew returned. They awakened Bompensiero. The telephone rang and rang. Calls were taken. Calls placed. Sandy again began to fill Bompensiero in on her troubles. She was divorced. Her husband had the children in Sacramento. He wouldn’t let her see them. He didn’t answer her letters and let her know how the children were.
Bompensiero ferried people here and there in the Pontiac. Somewhere, the report did not make clear where, the spaghetti dinner was prepared and served. Several pages of transcript record telephone calls being made by Fratianno about trucking, about Vegas, about Reno. Fratianno and Sandy then leave the apartment. Bompensiero leaves. And then, the FBI report picks up, with this:
“At 11:05 p.m. Bompensiero and Diacogianis were heard re-entering the apartment. They had a general discussion about bringing some unnamed doctor from Manila to Mexico. Diacogianis described this doctor as one who specializes in male sexual rejuvenation and they speculated how they could set him up in business and make a million dollars.
“Bompensiero asked Diacogianis if ■■■■■■■■ was still a bookie and Diacogianis answered, ‘No, he’s a credit man.’
"At 11:20 p.m. Bompensiero and Diacogianis quieted down, apparently going to sleep.”
May 9, Fratianno and Bompensiero moved from the Jay L. Jay Apartments to a three-room apartment. No. 75, at the American Motel, in El Centro, California. Diacogianis shared the apartment with them.
By mid-May, the El Centro job was going so badly that Fratianno was having trouble making his payroll. According to Fratianno’s statements to Ovid Demaris, he not infrequently sent Diacogianis and another fellow to steal Fratianno equipment and “collect tax-free money from the insurance policy so generously provided by Allen Dorfman, who handled the Teamsters’ insurance. A night’s work of stealing 150 tires and wheels, valued at $18,000, did nicely to keep Jimmy in pocket money."
Fratianno, at about this time, took the step that would end by bringing down his trucking business. He offered to sell his trucks to the drivers. The drivers were asked to sign contracts, naming them as conditional lessees. They were not to pay anything down but were to receive 30 percent of the gross earnings. From the balance would come their payments on the trucks. This arrangement not only would permit Fratianno to pay his truckers less each week, but would also allow him to list them as owner-operators. That classification permitted Fratianno to no longer pay benefits. The majority of the truckers signed the contracts. Several did not and quit.
May 17, in mid-aftemoon in the El Centro apartment, Fratianno and Bompensiero talked about trucking and Joseph Bonanno. Born in 1905 in Sicily, Bonanno was chief of one of New York’s five Mafia families. In 1963 Bonanno planned to enlarge his holdings to include other New York families’ territories, plus that of Southern California. Bonanno ordered his top enforcer to put out contracts on several New York family heads and Los Angeles’ Frank Desimone. (When Desimone learned that Bonanno wanted him killed, Desimone became so frightened that he was reluctant even to leave his house, a situation that I am told vastly amused Bompensiero.) Anyone else engaging in such a plot would have been murdered, but the New York families decided to kidnap Bonanno. After meetings, the family heads decided that killing Bonanno would lead to years of Mafia warfare. Bonanno, promising that he would take early retirement in Tucson, was let go. On May 17, while Bompensiero and Fratianno fretted over the trucking business, Bonanno, who had not been seen since the 1964 kidnapping, surrendered in federal court in Manhattan to answer a subpoena.
The FBI report noted that “conversation then took place in low tones between Bompensiero and Fratianno. Fratianno said that he had been trying to hear the news all day. To which Bompensiero replied, ‘You ain’t going to hear nothing.’
“Fratianno answered: ‘I ain’t heard nothing.’
“Bompensiero: ‘You ain’t going to hear nothing, boy, you ain’t going to hear nothing. That’s it — you know?’ ”
The FBI reported that “more conversation took place in other parts of the apartment, which could not be overheard.” And then Bompensiero was noted to say, apparently about Bonanno, “Well, that just goes to show you, one slip, one slip and they’ll kill him, you understand? They’ll kill him. Why will they kill him? The FBI — that’s why." More conversation ensued which the agents could not overhear. And then Bompensiero was heard to say, “He is Italian, but they ought to give him back to the Indians."
May 18, Bompensiero and Fratianno discussed the trucking company’s inability to make enough to enable Frank La Porte to get a return on his investment
“Fratianno: ‘If you do something with good intentions and you think you will do it right and I happen to shoot craps, and you tell me about something... as long as you tell me… I lose my money — so what?’
“Bompensiero: ‘Frank didn’t blame me.’
“Fratianno: “That’s what I mean. We did it with good intentions. He thought we were doing right. We thought we were going to make a buck... you didn’t do it just for yourself. It was for everybody. You know a lot of these people they think I blame you.’
“Bompensiero then got quite upset at Fratianno, indicating that his feelings were hurt and what did they all want from him anyway, and stated, ‘I didn’t tell them it was going to be $50,000.’
“Fratianno: ‘That’s what I’m talking about. Now because ■■■■■■■■ introduced me to ■■■■■■■■ now do I blame ■■■■■■■■ because he blew my money over there? I don’t blame him. He tried to do something good for me. If I tell you look, Cheech, there’s a deal over here. Let’s put in $3,000 apiece. I think this is all right. Look, if it ain’t all right, well, Frank, it’s not a bank, we’re shooting craps. You don’t win all the time. I know what he’s hot about. The last couple of months he’s making the payments but he’s not getting anything back, but he doesn’t have to take it out on us.’”
Later in this conversation, Fratianno sought to reassure Bompensiero about the truck drivers’ becoming owner-operators. “They are never going to buy the trucks, Frank, can’t be! I charge them for tires. I charge them $8 an hour when ■■■■■■■■ does welding. You understand, Frank? I murder them! At the end of the month they maybe get $200 in equity in the trucks. At the end of the year they maybe get $1,200 or $1,400 equity. When I get through with that truck he’s got about $100 equity in the truck. Anything that’s done I charge him $8 an hour. I charge him for tires, grease and everything. They are not going to buy the trucks, they know that. I am saving them $2.90 an hour. So am I doing right? I can’t be calling him up every time I make a move. This is the way it looked when I got it. He said to me, you handle these trucks like you do your own. That’s it and if he had told me any other way, you know what I would have told him. Frank, I can’t do it. I can’t be calling him up three times a week to make decisions because if I do call him, he doesn’t know what it’s all about. I know what I’m doing. I know what it’s all about. I know how to run it to make a dollar. I might make a mistake.”
“Bompensiero: 'We all do.’ ”
Bompensiero continued to drive to El Centro on Mondays and drive back to San Diego on Friday afternoons. Fratianno, deep in his flirtation with Jean Bodul, flew in and out of El Centro, made trips to Vegas and Reno and Sacramento. His truckers became increasingly restive. They often were forced to pay out of their own pockets for truck repairs. One of Nick Diacogianis’s jobs, according to The Last Mafioso, was to see that the drivers were punctual in the morning. One driver persistently arrived late. Fratianno told Diacogianis to fire the man if he didn’t show up on time. June 14, Diacogianis fired the driver. An altercation, at which Bompensiero was present, ensued, and Diacogianis ended by hitting the driver, who, almost immediately, went to the El Centro police. By afternoon a warrant was sworn out, charging Diacogianis with assault and battery.
Bompensiero had warned Diacogianis about his temper and further had told Fratianno that Nick needed reining in. Late on the afternoon of the 14th, Bompensiero must have felt exceptionally peeved when Fratianno lectured him about the truck tires. The FBI memo noted that Fratianno “instructed Bompensiero that tires should be at 85 pounds pressure and that the big tire should always be mounted on the inside.” Tires, to Bompensiero, must have seemed the least of their problems.
The next day Fratianno found himself explaining to Bompensiero that the company was now "$236,000 in the hole.” Fratianno, in a series of telephone calls, claimed that he was going broke. On the 16th, Fratianno confided in Bompensiero that the company “was being sued for two payments made on a truck involving a driver who claimed he had been fired. The driver wanted the two payments returned.” Fratianno told Bompensiero that they “were in a spot and could not afford to lose any more drivers."
June 23, a Thursday, Fratianno could be heard on the telephone, complaining that the temperature in El Centro had been 120 degrees. While Bompensiero was out for dinner, several men, perhaps mechanics, were in the apartment with Fratianno. They grumbled to Fratianno that Bompensiero did not know what he was doing. Fratianno told them “to be patient, that Bompensiero was learning.” Fratianno added that his company was going broke. “We made $119,000 last year and made payments of S120,000. We lost $1,000. You figure it out.”
The agents noted:
“At 11:36 PM, Bompensiero returned to the apartment, and Fratianno told him that they had gotten a statement showing that from May, 1965, to May, 1966, they had netted $119,000. However, he claimed they were going in the hole, and Bompensiero talked to him about means of cutting overhead. Fratianno stated, ‘When a truck is down it costs me fourteen bucks an hour. I don’t like it.’ He complained about the trucks breaking down as quickly as they came out of the shop. Fratianno then told Bompensiero about a driver who had run into the back of a private car, and Bompensiero advised that some drivers were ‘tailgating.’ Fratianno then said to Bompensiero: ‘No one person can carry a heavy load all day. President Johnson — you know how many advisors he has? We got to get an organized system.' "
Bompensiero returned to San Diego on the afternoon of June 24. On June 27 agents observed Bompensiero driving to the airport and picking up Frank La Porte. “Immediately thereafter, the two proceeded in Bompensiero’s automobile to the Palomar Inn located just off Highway 101 at Chula Vista, where the two had dinner with ■■■■■■■■ who has been identified as a former member of the LCN (La Cosa Nostra] from ■■■■■■■■ ."
June 28, agents followed Bompensiero and La Porte while they visited Bompensiero’s barbershop in La Jolla, and on the evening of June 28, agents noted, “Bompensiero and La Porte were together in Room 203 at the Mission Valley Inn, which room was occupied by La Porte during his stay in San Diego."
On the morning of June 29, agents observed Bompensiero and La Porte eating “breakfast together at King’s Inn in the Mission Valley area of San Diego, and at 1:00 PM, La Porte left San Diego via American Airlines flight 268, which arrives in Chicago at 6:28 PM the same date.”
Bompensiero returned to El Centro, arriving at about 3:00 p.m. Diacogianis, that morning, had been tried on charges of assault and battery in Judge Hugh Keating’s El Centro courtroom. Diacogianis testified on his own behalf and on the stand admitted five felony convictions and other criminal activities. Fratianno testified for Diacogianis and admitted his criminal background and associations. Keating pronounced Diacogianis guilty and set sentencing for July 5.
That evening, in their apartment, Fratianno and Bompensiero were heard in discussion of Diacogianis’s trial. Bompensiero, in the course of their conversation, remarked that he had broken the law since he was 14 years old and could not remember everything that he had done.
July 5, Bompensiero returned to El Centro after the Fourth of July holiday. He was heard by FBI agents in the apartment with an El Centro bail bondsman, getting details and information to arrange bail for Diacogianis pending his appeal from the sentence. Bompensiero complained about the judge having thrown the book at Diacogianis and stated that he would not sign bond for him because he did not have a chance to beat the case on appeal and it would not hurt him to lay out the three months in jail.
“July 6, at 12:30 PM, Bompensiero received a call from Diacogianis from the county jail. Bompensiero appeared to be very upset and told Diacogianis that Fratianno would arrive in El Centro that same day. When Bompensiero hung up he swore to himself for a long time.
“At 2:50 PM, Bompensiero received a call from Marie. He told her about Diacogianis's sentence. Bompensiero stated that Diacogianis was a fool, and they would only be throwing away money if tliey put up bond to get him out.
“At 3:45 PM, Fratianno arrived at the apartment driving his leased, green Pontiac station wagon. Bompensiero was very upset over Fratianno’s late arrival, and Fratianno told him that he had stopped for three hours in Cabazon to see ■■■■■■■■ Bompensiero then wanted to know where 'the gun was.’ Bompensiero told Fratianno he had heard that Diacogianis had a gun. Fratianno admitted he knew Diacogianis had a gun, but told Bompensiero that he had ‘taken care of it.’
“Bompensiero was very upset with Fratianno and wanted Fratianno to let Diacogianis stay in jail and not pay his fine or bail him out. Bompensiero told Fratianno that Diacogianis was no good and would only cause him trouble.
“Fratianno indicated that he was going to have to have his bail bondsman in Los Angeles arrange to bail Diacogianis out that same night. He said he had already made arrangements. Bompensiero disapproved and was very upset about it all.”
July 7, the Imperial Valley Press’s front page, under a banner headline — “MAFIA PRESENT IN VALLEY” — showed photographs of Fratianno, Bompensiero, and Moceri. “Neither Bompensiero nor Fratianno were aware of this article until after 8:30 PM, when a telephone call alerted them to it.” The FBI report noted, “After they obtained a copy of the newspaper containing the article, Bompensiero burst into laughter and told Fratianno, 'After you spend all that money getting your nose fixed, they used an old picture.’ ” (See page end of this story for article.)
Fratianno and Bompensiero, after reading the article, “were very much upset and threatened to sue the editor of the local paper.”
Bompensiero and Fratianno continued, then, to try to keep the trucks hauling dirt. But it must have become apparent to both men that Fratianno’s trucking business was falling apart and that Frank La Forte’s $304,000 investment was lost. Either Bompensiero ceased driving over to El Centro or the FBI ceased surveilling him, or both. I lose all trace of Bompensiero until August 15, when charges of criminal conspiracy to defraud employees and the State of California were filed against Miles and Sons and Fratianno Trucking, as corporations. Charges also were filed individually against Fratianno, Bompensiero, Diacogianis, ReCupido, and Fratianno’s foreman, Kenneth Bentley.
The San Diego Union for August 17 headlined its front page with:
STATEWIDE ALERT PUT OUT FOR KEY FIGURE, LINKED EARLIER TO MAFIA
“A man once named as the West Coast executioner for the Mafia was charged in El Centro yesterday with defrauding truck drivers. James Fratianno, known as Jimmy the Weasel, was charged with criminal conspiracy following an investigation by the attorney general’s office into contracts for construction of a new interstate freeway south of El Centro.... Fratianno late last night had not been arrested and a statewide alert had been broadcast. Bail was set at $55,000.
“Also charged were Frank Bompensiero, an associate of Fratianno’s in operation of the trucking firm.... Bompensiero was arrested here yesterday at the home of friends. Deputies from El Centro took him in custody for return to El Centro. His bail was also set at $55,000.”
August 18, Fratianno’s photograph graced the Union’s front page. The headline read: “Truck Fraud Case Figure Arrested, Fratianno Seized At L.A. International Airport; Returned To El Centro, Jailed.”
The Union reported that Fratianno was booked on the night of the 17th into the Imperial County jail on charges of criminal conspiracy. “Sheriffs deputies brought him by car from Los Angeles after he was arrested about 12:30 pm at Los Angeles International Airport in company with his attorney. He said he was en route to El Centro to surrender to the charges.” Bompensiero was relegated to the Union’s second page. Beneath his photo, the caption read, “Frank Bompensiero (El Bompo) of San Diego is booked in El Centro on charges he and four others conspired to defraud truck drivers.” The photograph shows that Bompensiero wore a short-sleeved white shirt with a cigar sticking from its pocket.
Spectators crowded the 35-seat El Centro courtroom for the arraignment on August 18. Low bail was set for all defendants except Fratianno and Bompensiero. Judge Hugh Keating asked a $55,000 bail for the two men. All the defendants were ordered to appear for a preliminary hearing on August 25. Los Angeles lawyer Jimmy Cantillon, who served as Johnny Rosselli’s attorney, pled for lower bail for Fratianno and Bompensiero, but Keating refused. The two were returned to the county jail. Fratianno apparently knew it was all over. He ordered his foreman to remove his trucks from Imperial County and get them back to Sacramento.
I talked one day with a woman who grew up in El Centro. She recalled that the jail had been built in the 1920s or 1930s. As she remembered the jail layout, there were four large iron-barred open cells that each held eight to ten people. These cells tended to fill up with drunks and men who’d become involved in fisticuffs. The jail had no air conditioning and the bathroom facilities were primitive.
The day’s weather report for the Imperial Valley promised a high of 112, up from the previous day’s 104. Mary Ann recalled that she drove to El Centro to visit her father. “That place was a real hellhole, the jail. The heat was awful. I was so worried about my father, there. He spoke to me very sternly, that day, and told me, in no uncertain terms that I was not to visit him there again. I was not to come again to El Centro. It broke my heart, I can tell you, to see him there. That place was dismal.”
Meanwhile, Fratianno’s trucks were idle. The trucking company soon would be bankrupt. On August 25, Jimmy Cantillon arrived from Los Angeles for the preliminary hearing. The weather report noted that the Imperial Valley’s “torrid muggy weather is expected to continue.” Temperatures were expected to rise to 112 degrees, up 6 degrees from the day previous. Cantillon argued unsuccessfully for lowered bail for his clients. Bompensiero and Fratianno were stuck. Imperial County's district attorney was busy interviewing drivers who had worked for Fratianno and ReCupido. He estimated that some 50 drivers had been defrauded of approximately $100,000 in wages and fringe benefits; he predicted that the preliminary hearing could take four weeks. Bompensiero must have wished that he’d never laid eyes on Jimmy Fratianno.
As Imperial Valley temperatures remained above 100 and on some days rose to 110, the preliminary hearing went on. August 31, Justice Vincent Whelan of the Fourth District Court of Appeals granted Jimmy Cantillon's motion to reduce bail for Fratianno and Bompensiero. Whelan ordered Fratianno’s bail reduced to $15,000 and Bompensiero’s to $10,000. A Los Angeles bail bondsman flew to El Centro to guarantee the bail.
Friday afternoon, September 2, Judge Keating adjourned the court at noon for Labor Day weekend, so that the Imperial Valley fall ritual — dove season’s opening — might be observed. Fratianno and Bompensiero, that afternoon, were let out on bail. Eighteen days, Bompensiero had sweltered in El Centro’s jail.
Bompensiero’s La Jolla barber, Harry Bianconi, I was told, “had the Job that day of going over and taking Frank clean clothes and getting him out of jail.”
Quite what happened during the 18 days Bompensiero sweated in El Centro’s jail, you and I will never know. FBI agents still alive today know. I wrote letters to two agents who are rumored to have been among the men who visited Bompensiero in El Centro. Both, when I first wrote them, were long retired. Both responded to my request with polite refusals to speak with me. One still lived in San Diego. Late afternoons, one year, when I took my daily hour’s ramble for exercise, I made a point of walking past his home. I hoped that he might come out to stand on his lawn and gaze across the bay. I imagined I could stride right up to him and introduce myself. I imagined that after we shook hands and I explained that I needed to know what happened during those 18 days in El Centro, that he relented. On hot afternoons, I imagined that he invited me in, that he sat me down in his cool, dim living room. I imagined that he didn’t stare at my ugly walking shoes. He said, “This is how it was. We went to see Bompensiero over there in El Centro. Hotter ’n hades, it was.” As things turned out, no one would tell me anything much about those 18 days.
Whatever happened, Bompensiero, by the time Harry Bianconi picked him up for the drive back to San Diego, had been assigned FBI informant file number “SD-1064.”
One retiree, a man who worked in several arms of local law enforcement, told me that “when that truck thing over in the valley came along, the state guys went in to talk to both Fratianno and Bompensiero. Fratianno, I don’t know what happened with him. What I do know is that the state guys turned Bompensiero. It wasn’t the FBI who first got to him. It was the state — guys from the attorney general’s staff. The state guys then turned Bompensiero over to the FBI. I knew Bompensiero’s first two handlers, the guys who were his handlers before jack Armstrong came along.”
I asked another law enforcement retiree about this business of handing off informants from one agency to another. He said that not infrequently the FBI stole other agencies’ informants. “They had all the money, the FBI did. The PD paid peanuts. So informants would shit-can the PD and go over to the FBI.”
John D. “Jack" Armstrong, a Massachusetts-born Irish Roman Catholic, originally came to the local FBI office in the late 1950s and at least for a time, worked interstate auto theft. He spoke “Boston,” his vowels flattened in the manner that the Kennedy family made familiar to all America. Armstrong’s appearance during the mid-1960s was described to me — “strawberry-blond hair, thinning and beginning to go gray; piercing blue eyes; sharp nose; florid complexion; about 180 pounds and six feet tall.” Another person who knew Armstrong during this period said that he was afflicted with the photosensitive Irish complexion, that he had little sunspots on his forehead and the tips of his ears. His eyelashes, she said, were pale, almost colorless. She said that he wore what the FBI wore in those days — dark suits, white shirts, fedora, wing tips.
Many years after the El Centro debacle, Armstrong would testify in a Los Angeles federal courtroom that Bompensiero became his informant in 1966. He said Bompensiero was paid $250 a week plus expenses and he provided the FBI with leads which led to many arrests. Asked, “How many people did Bompensiero inform on?” Armstrong answered, “Hundreds.”
Someone mentioned to me that behind Jack Armstrong’s back, local lawmen sometimes referred to Armstrong, facetiously, as “the all-American boy.” I badgered a retired lawman, an unusually perspicacious man, about why Armstrong was chosen as Bompensiero’s handler. “Because Armstrong was righteous. Because he was close-mouthed to the nth degree. Because he was a J. Edgar Hoover man all the way. He was the kind of guy that you had a 30-second conversation with and you knew you wouldn’t buy him off, trade him off, or get anything that hadn’t already been cleared by J. Edgar Hoover. In those days that was the way they all were. Armstrong was not different. He simply was more rigid, more righteous. Everything was black-and-white. He didn’t know gray. He was such a one-way bastard: he never shared, he would never tell you anything unless he was sure you already knew it. But that in those days was the FBI way.”
Another law enforcement retiree told me that “Normally, when you get an informant that's got charges against him, you’d go to a DA and tell him what you had. If the guy was valuable enough, they would go through a sham thing on him. But I don’t know what happened there in the valley between Armstrong and Bompensiero. And I don’t know for sure why Bompensiero went over. Nobody now ever will. Maybe the FBI deal was kind of like a retirement plan for Bompensiero. He got money from the FBI, he got treated well. All his murders were forgiven. And they knew about the murders, you better believe they did. When they first put a guy to work, they shrink him. They get to know him, slow, but they get to know him. And he got protection. So he had all that going for him. But mostly, from what I know of Bompensiero, I believe that he was repenting for his sins of murder, trying to work them off. His life had been the bright lights, the fancy restaurants, the big cigar, down there on the streets with his compares. He owed something to society is what I think he thought. I really believe that from what I know of the guy."
Ovid Demans writes in The Last Mafioso that for an FBI agent, “a high-level snitch could mean the difference between beating [your] brains out digging up gossip and rumors on the street and sitting smugly back like [Jack] Armstrong with a pipeline leading directly into the upper echelons of the organization.” A law enforcement retiree agreed with Demaris’s assessment. “Anyone,” he said, “who had a real true-blue informant in organized crime was in hog heaven.”
“What a guy like Armstrong,” a man who knew him said, “was interested in was Armstrong. He wanted to get everything he could because Bompensiero, back then, was one of the few guys at that level who was snitching, and every word Jack Armstrong sent back East made Jack Armstrong look very, very good.”
I found it peculiar that through the years, as I asked people locally and in other cities, about Armstrong and Bompensiero, that almost everyone with whom I spoke had something nice to say about Bompensiero and something not so nice to say about Armstrong. No one even intimated that Armstrong was not on the up-and-up, that he wasn’t honest as the day was king, it wasn’t that. It was that people did not seem to cotton to him, they didn’t particularly enjoy being around him.
As things turned out, Bompensiero and Armstrong, an amiable and bigheaded murderer who had chats with “J.C.” and a not-so-amiable and somewhat saturnine straight-arrow church-going Roman Catholic FBI agent would end up seeing each other as often as once a week for the next ten years. They ended up, my guess is, needing each other. You can’t help but wonder what went on between them.
I did wonder. I tried to picture them at a table together. Bompensiero chewed his Bering Immensa. I didn’t even know if Armstrong smoked. I did know that his jackets must have smelled of Bompensiero’s cigar smoke. His jackets and his strawberry-blond hair and his colorless eyelashes, they must have smelled too. I tried to figure what they had in common. They were both interested in what you and I call “crime.” They must have enjoyed gossip. What was Bonanno up to over there in Tucson? And Fratianno, flying in and out of San Francisco and Vegas and Los Angeles and Cleveland? And what was Trafficante doing in Tampa and Marcello in New Orleans? And what about Rosselli, who had he seen in Vegas and Beverly Hills and La Costa and Los Angeles and Miami and Tampa and Washington, D.C., and Chicago? And, in Chicago, what were Joey “Doves” Aiuppa and Jackie Cerone doing? Until 1968, when Frank Desimone keeled over after a heart attack, Armstrong and Bompensiero must have talked about Desimone’s fear that Bonanno would have him killed. Armstrong’s sun-scarred ear tips must have quivered with interest as Bompensiero schooled him in the nature of ties among and between various Matrangas and Mirabiles and Fepitones and Vitales and Priziolas and Dias. Perhaps Bompensiero told the All-American Boy stories of the villages from which these men’s mothers and fathers came. Perhaps he told him about the boat his father had in Porticello and the house with the marble stairway. So they had that in common: they were interested in the same people.
I want to stop here and explain about how Aiuppa came to be called “Doves.” Jay Robert Nash in his World Encyclopedia of Organized Crime writes that Aiuppa was “convicted in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1962, and jailed for three months for illegally transporting 562 mourning doves from Kansas to Illinois. This last incident earned Aiuppa his strange sobriquet of ‘Doves’ Aiuppa. The gangster long fancied himself a gentleman hunter, and he encouraged his fellow mobsters to take out their aggressions on the fowl of the earth, holding hunting parties throughout the Midwest. He and some fellow gangsters drove to Kansas during the bird hunting season in 1962 and there blasted more than 1400 birds, mostly mourning doves, from the skies when the legal limit was 24. Officers arrested Aiuppa in his car when he crossed the Illinois line with the hundreds of illegal dead birds in his trunk. He was returned to Kansas where he was convicted before a federal judge who stated that Aiuppa’s attack on the birds was nothing short of ‘unconscionable slaughter.’ Aiuppa persisted in his bird hunting, establishing the loftily-entitled Yorkshire Quail Club in Kankakee County, to the west of Chicago, enrolling dozens of high-ranking Mafia-syndicate members from around the country as members. The club’s hunting permits were issued by the Illinois Department of Conservation, but these were later revoked when Aiuppa was revealed to be the president of the club.”
Anyway, Armstrong and Bompensiero, when you think about it, had more in common than did, say, Bompensiero and Fratianno. Neither Bompensiero nor Armstrong was a womanizer. They were one-woman men. Both felt protectively toward women. Armstrong tended to behave in an avuncular fashion with female law enforcement personnel. One recalled his saying to her in a kindly way, “Just be a good Catholic girl.” Armstrong, apparently, liked a martini now and then; Bompensiero liked a cold been neither was a big drinker.
What this middle-aged Irishman and this aging Sicilian-American had most in common was a code of ethics, a way of life. Both the FBI agent and the old mustache were company men, each in his unique way bound by onore and omertá. In the tumultuous mid-1960s, as women burned bras and peaceniks burned draft cards and men who had never killed took over Jack Dragna’s Los Angeles mob and men with longish sideburns and suspect politics came to work for the FBI, both Bompensiero and Armstrong must have seen themselves as men of honor forced to do battle against a dishonorable world.
September 6, 1966, an anonymous note in an unmarked envelope was discovered at the entrance of the San Diego FBI office. The note was typewritten in Italian. The Bureau noted that the type “resembles the Laboratory standards for Royal elite style of type, spaced 12 characters per inch.” The local office sent the letter to Washington for translation. No request was being made “for fingerprint examination of the anonymous note because it was handled by numerous persons prior to submission, virtually eliminating possibility of successful development of latent fingerprints.”
The San Diego office received from Washington the following translation:
Last year I found myself at dinner in a restaurant, the place was dark and close to the table where I and a friend of mine sat down there was a table with six important persons beginning (?) to argue (?) and drink. They spoke Sicilian. They were speaking about having had a great loss of money and he who made them lose it was a television artist named “Linkletter.” The persons were, the brothers Frank and Sam Bompensiero, ■■■■■■■■, Biaggio Bonventre, ■■■■■■■■… this have produce business..., ■■■■■■■■. ■■■■■■■■ said to Frank Bompensiero, when we must we hurry and rid ourselves of the business of making disappear this rascal (or stronger) Linkletter, Frank answered saying, ■■■■■■■■ don’t you think that the thing is all easy this is a big man and time and money is needed, this business is not like the Mexican that invited him to a banquet and they brought (?) him and they beat him and whose true name is made the hole and all was finished, with Linkletter we need time and patience. When I left the restaurant with my friend we said, when we kill among didri all is well but wanting to kill honest people it is necessary to investigate, and with the help of honest friends after many sacrifices we come to discover that about the year 1960 ■■■■■■■■ became a close friend with a Mexican and after many projects for making money they began a small commerce with Mexico, meanwhile from prison came Frank Bompensiero and as he was to have the position of boss as he was before, without making themselves known to the Mexican, they organized the commerce on a large scale, and in charged a Mafioso named ■■■■■■■■ with Mexico, father-in-law of one who is called in Los Angeles who is another big man, and with the syndicate of San Diego started I do not know what things, the business promised to the Mexican that if he behaved well and gave proof of being a man who keeps in his stomach they would admit him as an equal member in the syndicate, they said to the Mexican that the profit from the commerce must be given to the committee for giving help to ail the brothers harassed by the law, but however the Mexican after much time discovered it was not true and began to resist with the five persons who were ' at the meal and with ■■■■■■■■, when he reported him to the brothers Bompensieio right away decided to invite him that it had become the time to admit him in the society of the Mafia and that there was to be a banquet prepared for him. He was going to meet the boss and at the same time the boss ordering all the brothers, to give to the Mexican a certain percentage of all the business that they had and in that manner the Mexican was convinced that he had secured an income for life, the rest as to the ending of the Mexican in 1962 in the month of July or August is written on the brothers ■■■■■■■■ and the remainder is that ■■■■■■■■ alias ■■■■■■■■ today has an Italian restaurant in Hemet, California and came...in America not legal attention and don’t cause the shooting of Linkletter.
In January, 1962, Bompensiero had worked as assistant sales manager at the San Luis Rey Packing Company in Oceanside, with which the Linkletters, Art and his son Jack, were involved. The conversation related in the anonymous letter seems to make reference to that business.
The note's translator wrote: “In response to the request of the San Diego Office, it is felt that the writer of the letter is possibly past middle age, possibly attended three or four grades of elementary school in Italy and was possibly brought up in a Sicilian environment (most likely in Sicily). This is suggested by the good knowledge the writer displays of the Sicilian dialect (hardly contaminated by English) and by the fact that he shows a tendency to use school-taught spellings of the Italian language to express sounds which are typical of the dialect."
September 29, 1966, Bompensiero celebrated his 61st birthday. For his involvement with Fratianno’s trucking business, Bompensiero had been charged with 36 counts of conspiring to cheat truck drivers on their wages and violate state laws in connection with freeway construction. These charges, even had Bompensiero not agreed to become an informant, would likely have been dropped. There just wasn’t much there to show that Bompensiero acted illegally in his connection with Fratianno’s trucking company. But, surely, he knew that his agreement to become an FBI informant meant those charges eventually would be dropped.
“Nobody," a man who knew Bompensiero said to me, “loves a snitch.” This was his answer to a question I’d put to him. The question was, “Why does everyone who was at all close to Bompensiero seem to change the subject when I ask them about Bompensiero becoming an informant?”
“Nobody loves a snitch." When the man said that to me he looked me, hard, in the eye. His cold gaze hurt and the sentence hurt. “Nobody loves a snitch.”
Two sets of deeds of which Bompensiero is accused make people uncomfortable. One is the murders. The other is that he became an informant.
About the murders, those dose to Bompensiero offer a variety of opinions. “None of it was proved,” some say. Others say, “They only killed each other." My answer to the murders is that for Bompensiero, the “murders" were not “murders”: they were his work as a soldier in Jack Dragna’s army. I believe that as a soldier in Dragna’s army Bompensiero instinctually felt himself to be fighting on the right side. My answer to the “murders” is that Bompensiero was no more and no less troubled by them than a soldier would be troubled after shooting up a fox-hole filled with Nazis. Which is to say he was and he wasn’t troubled. I do not think, however, that Bompensiero enjoyed killing.
Mary Ann says, about her father’s role as an informant, that she does not believe that he told them anything useful. She believes that her father strung Armstrong along. I do believe that Bompensiero gave useful information to Armstrong. I believe that by the time Bompensiero found himself wiping sweat away from his broad forehead as he sat in the El Centro jail cell that he no longer felt like a good soldier in a valiant army. an army fighting for what was right. With Dragna’s death and Frank Desimone’s takeover of the Los Angeles family, this army to which Bompensiero had allied himself for almost four decades was no longer noble. It had out-lived its reason for being. It had become something that was not in favor of justice. What remained must have seemed to Bompensiero not an army of Sicilian men of honor, but a backbiting crew of coarse American thugs and goons.
Mary Ann said, “I used to ask my father, ’Daddy, what is the Mafia?’ And he’d say, ’Honey, what are you talking about? That’s the olden days, no such thing anymore as the Mafia. No such thing. All a bunch of bullshit.’ He never said, There is or isn’t a Mafia,’ only that there used to be, that was the olden days, and it’s no more."
Bompensiero, in an odd way, became like protestors of the Vietnam War. Many protestors were deeply patriotic; they loved their country so much that they did not want to see America sully her honor in what seemed to them a dishonorable war. Bompensiero loved what we call the Mafia so much that he came to hate what the men who came after Jack Dragna were making of it.
When Bompensiero left San Quentin in May, I960, the Los Angeles family was busying itself with its usual bookmaking, loan-sharking, and two-bit extortions. Simone Scozzari, Desimone’s underboss, was deported back to Sicily in 1962. Nick Licata took Scozzari’s place as Desimone’s crew chief. Bompensiero liked Licata a bit better than he liked Desimone, which was not at all. Licata, someone told me, “was cheap. He was not one to cut up the money." About Desimone, Bompensiero would never feel that Desimone had done all he could to keep him out of San Quentin. Plus, Desimone’s move to keep Momo Adamo from power and Desimone’s rape of Marie, were, to Bompensiero, unforgivable acts. When Bompensiero left prison he kept clear of the Los Angeles family; some people might have believed that it was the stringencies of parole that kept Bompensiero from visiting Desimone and Licata and Jack Dragna’s nephew, Louis Tom. It wasn’t fear of violating parole that kept Bompensiero away, it was disgust and distaste. "Pezzi de merde,” he called them, “pieces of shit.”
But for all that Bompensiero detested and distrusted Desimone and the Licatas and Louis Tom Dragna and other LA family members, still, the first time he told a family secret to Armstrong must have been a painful moment. Nobody loves a snitch. When that first betraying sentence slipped off Bompensiero’s tongue, he must have known that nothing again ever would be the same. Nothing was. Nothing would be.
Bompensiero now had two sets of secrets. He had the secrets he’d been keeping since he was 14 and began breaking the law and he had his secret relationship with Jack Armstrong. Bompensiero was good at secrets. He was good at keeping what he knew to himself.
Bompensiero also had many secrets from Marie, with whom he’d been living, by this time, for several years. Marie was accustomed to secrets. Her second husband, Bompensiero’s friend Momo Adamo, forbade Marie from entering the living room when the men talked business. She was forced to sit in the kitchen. When she pried into Bompensiero’s affairs, he told her, affably, “You take care of the house, I’ll take care of business.” He could not tell Marie how he missed Thelma, Mary Ann’s mother. Marie was desperately jealous of Thelma, cold in her grave for more than ten years. He could say nothing to Marie of how little Santa, Mary Ann’s daughter, reminded him of his dead wife. “You look just like your grandmother, honey” is what he used to say to Santa. He’d touch her hair, say, “Yes, you do, you look just like your grandmother.” His grandson Frankie was a teenager, as old as his grandfather had been when he killed for the first time. He could not tell Marie about the evening he and Thelma stood by Frankie’s crib and held hands; he could not tell Marie that tears streamed down Thelma’s face, tears of joy. He could not tell Marie that Thelma looked up at him and said, “Our vita nuova, Frank, our new life.” He could not tell Marie that he held himself responsible for Thelma’s death. Thelma died, people said, of a broken heart; Bompensiero knew he broke that heart. What he brought on Thelma was the worst thing he ever did in his life. All the blood of however many men that stained his hands was nothing compared to what his way of life did to Thelma. Nothing.
January 6, 1967, Bompensiero made the 120-mile drive to El Centro. In a packed courtroom he heard his lawyer Jimmy Cantillon tell the court that no evidence heard in the preliminary hearing indicated Bompensiero was guilty of the charges against him. “If I were to be seen with you,” Cantillon told Superior Court Judge Victor Gillespie, “and I happened to be a bookmaker, that would not make you guilty of a crime.” Judge Gillespie ordered all charges against Bompensiero dropped. He continued until January 20 a decision on a motion to dismiss charges against Fratianno.
Bompensiero, after the hearing, was jovial. He told a San Diego Union reporter that he was “very happy to have the whole thing over with” and that his attorney did a “marvelous job." He said that Judge Hugh Keating, who had tried the preliminary hearing, “asked me if I planned to get into the trucking business again. I told him if I ever see a truck driver coming at me. I’m going to turn around and go the other way.”
The last page of files on Bompensiero that I received through the Freedom of Information Act is this;
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Copy to: United States Attorney, San Diego (Attention: AUSA JOHN A. MITCHELL
Report of: ■■■■■■■■
Date: April 28, 1967
Field Office File: San Diego 92-25
Title: FRANK BOMPENSIERO
Subject Frank Bompensiero continues to reside in San Diego, California. State felony charges against subject dismissed at El Centro, California, by Superior Court judge who ruled prosecution failed to show, at preliminary hearing, sufficient evidence of criminal conspiracy. Subject continues close contact with hoodlums. During investigative period, subject in contact with hoodlum leaders ■■■■■■■■ among others. SUBJECT SHOULD BE CONSIDERED ARMED AND DANGEROUS, AS HE IS SUSPECT IN MURDERS AND HAS BEEN ARRESTED IN POSSESSION OF A GUN.
I. Residence and Identification of Subject’s Automobile
As of April 19, 1967, it was verified that subject Frank Bompensiero is still residing in Apartment 4, 1830 Reed Street in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego.
He continues to live there under the alias Frank Gavin. Subject’s telephone number remains ■■■■■■■■.
The subject continues to maintain as his public residence the home of his daughter in San Diego. Subject Bompensiero operates only one car, a light blue 1965 Mustang bearing California license RDJ 155. II. Employment
Investigation has revealed that subject Bompensiero remains unemployed since he left Imperial Valley in August, 1966, where he was last working for the Fratianno Trucking Company.
Try as I might, I was able to obtain through the Freedom of Information Act only a few more pages dated after the summer of 1966. I acquired a Washington, D.C., lawyer whose area of expertise was the Freedom of Information Act. For two years he tried to procure more Bompensiero documents. No luck. I tried extra-legal ways to gather more documents. Again, no luck. I wrote again to Jack Armstrong, who in 1978 had retired from the FBI and gone to work for the San Diego County District Attorney’s office and then, in the early 1990s, retired there too. He had been divorced and returned to the East Coast. No luck.
From mid-summer, 1966 on, Bompensiero would have no visible means of employment. Fratianno claims in The Last Mafioso that in 1969 he gave Bompensiero several large sums — $15,000 and later, another $20,000. But, who knows. Mary Ann was working, full-time. Her children, then, were teenagers. Her father came by, afternoons, and checked on them. He often made dinner, his usual menu — steaks on the grill, pasta, mashed potatoes. He helped Mary Ann out with money. He made sure the children had clothes. “Then when I got home, we would visit a little and maybe he would watch the news with the kids. He always watched the news. He always liked Channel 10. I don’t know who the news commentator was then. But he said, ‘You can trust that guy.’ He said that at Channel 10 they were nice to him. Anytime they ever talked to him, they respected him."
After the news, Bompensiero would say his good-byes for the evening. “Then,” said Mary Ann, “my dad would go and eat at Marie’s. I don’t think he told Marie everything he was doing for us because she was such a jealous woman. She was always asking me if my father had bought this for me or that for me or the kids. She was so jealous. And jealous of my dead mother. My father made excuses for her, ‘Ever since she got shot, you know, she hasn’t been quite right.’
“I remember one time my father said to me, ‘Honey, I want you to go pick out a car. You go pick out what you want and I'll make the payments.’ I said, ‘Daddy, what if something happens to you and I can’t afford the payment?’ I was afraid. They don’t put anything in the bank you know, everything has got to be stashed and who the heck knows?
“To make a long story short, I get a phone call from Marie. My dad wasn’t around. She’d never talk to me like that in front of my dad. I respected her always in front of my dad. Didn’t pay too much attention to her, but respected her. She says, ‘If you think you’re going to get a car before I do!’ I said, ‘Marie, what are you talking about?’ I said, ‘You know, Marie, you’re probably right. The reason I’m not going to get a car is because I don’t want a car. You know why? My father supports you, he’s got to give you everything you want, he wants to give me everything. I love my father and I don’t want to see him stressed out. Otherwise I’d have a car, Marie.’ ”
Frank Desimone died. Seventy-one-year-old Nick Licata took over the Los Angeles family. He made Louis Tom Dragna his second-in-command. Licata, born in Camporeale, Sicily, in 1897, had come to the U.S. at 16. He became involved in the Detroit underworld. In his 20s he “got crosswise” with Detroit leader Joe Zerilli, who called for Licata’s death. Licata fled to Los Angeles and Dragna, who talked Zerilli into forgiving young Licata, then took him into the Los Angeles group. Licata, albeit somewhat reluctantly, participated in the Cohen-Dragna battles. His son Carlo worked for a time in San Diego at a bar and suspected gambling joint, Nate Rosenberg’s Navy Club, a 12-room suite on the second floor of 919 Fourth Avenue. Carlo had a reputation as something of a bumbler. Louis Tom Dragna, Jack Dragna’s nephew, by this time was a wealthy man. Owner of Roberta Manufacturing in Los Angeles, a firm that made women’s clothes, Dragna took scant interest in day-to-day management of the family. Bompensiero avoided contact with both men.
Fratianno, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, was in and out of courthouses and prisons. He and Bompensiero met several times, but they did not see each other frequently. The gas station owner who sometimes visited Harry Bianconi’s barbershop remembered that at about this time, after the El Centro fiasco, Bompensiero began spending more time at the shop. “It seemed as if he had a lot of time on his hands. After lunch. Yeah. He’d wander around and end up there, sometime after lunch, and he’d be in there maybe a couple of hours or so. Came in about every other day or something. Drove an old Mustang. It wasn’t a flashy car by any means. We would get together in the shop and Harry would cook up Italian sausage on a barbecue grill he kept in the back.
“Jack Armstrong was out there too. He’d come out and while away the time. I don’t know what his game was at that time. Later I heard that Frank was a witness.” The gas station owner knew that Armstrong was an FBI agent. He said that he thought Armstrong just came around “to see what he could find out.” He didn’t think it was all that unusual. “Everybody, I figured, was keeping an eye on Frank. Someone told me that the sheriff had people across the street at what then was the Security National Bank, taking photographs of people who went in and out of the barbershop.” He recalled “a big, young, good-looking fellow who worked over there at the bank for a while. He’d come over and hang around the barbershop, and old Frank told him, ‘You haven’t got any business hanging around like this. You should be over there at the bank.’ Frank told him that. And then, later on, the bank let the guy go.”
The gas station owner said that he would have suspected Bompensiero was involved in things, even if Harry hadn't told him. “He never worked. And I wondered about that. Because he lived pretty good. There was no flashy car or anything but he never-worked. He never mentioned that he’d been in prison. He mentioned being in the Army once, but not prison. He was pretty sharp in a lot of ways, not talking.”
I asked if he remembered how Armstrong and Bompensiero behaved toward one another. “Just real friendly. Nothing special. They talked about how the weather was and who won the ball game. And this and that.”
June 30, 1969, Bompensiero and Marie were married in Imperial County. Why they finally married, no one can tell me. Why they chose Imperial County, no one can say. He was 63. She was 61. Mary Ann remembered that her father walked into her house one morning early in July, 1969. “He had a key to the house. I was still in bed. He came in and stood at the door to my bedroom. ‘Honey,’ he said, ‘get up. I have something to tell you. I want to talk to you.’ He sat down and I put some coffee on. He looked across the table at me and said, ‘Marie and I got married.’ I said, ‘Why? Why did you many her?' "
Bompensiero had always told Mary Ann that he’d never remarry. On the July morning when he sat at the table with Mary Ann, explaining his marriage to Marie, he said, “My grandchildren are getting older, her grandchildren are getting older.” He looked down at his hands. He said, “She knows the way of life." Then he laughed, relit his cigar, pulled himself up out of the chair. “Besides that,” he said, “a wife cannot testify against her husband.”
Mary Ann and I talked many times about why her father finally married Marie. Mary Ann believed, and I came to agree with her, that her father felt responsible for his old friend Momo’s widow. “Someone,” Mary Ann said, “had to look after her.”
Late that summer, in 1969, Bompensiero’s mother, born in 1877, fell in her kitchen on Columbia Street and fractured her left hip. Previous to her fall she had kept house, cooked meals, walked every morning to Our Lady of the Rosary for mass. After she broke her hip, she never walked again. November 22, she died. Mary Ann remembered that during the funeral mass, tears flowed down her father’s face. She remembered that during the mass two white doves flew into Our Lady of the Rosary, circled several times above the congregation, and then flew out.
Her father, Mary Ann said, began to seem a little older after that. He had problems with his eyes — cataracts. He wore heavy black-rimmed eyeglasses with thick lenses. He had several bouts with gout. He had high blood pressure, for which he began taking medication. “But his skin was still as smooth as a baby’s. The Bompensieros don’t wrinkle. They just don’t.”
November 21, 1970, William “Big Bill” Bonelli died in Hermosillo, Mexico. Seventy-five when he died — of emphysema — Bonelli had been on the lam since his failure to re-win election to his seat on the State Board of Equalization in November, 1954. Mary Ann still pulls a funsha — a long face — at the mention of Bonelli’s name. The net thrown out by the San Diego County DA’s office that was intended, eventually, to catch Bonelli, of course also trapped her father. Bompensiero did five years staring out the bars into the San Francisco Bay. Bonelli lived freely in Mexico. “Bonelli," Mary Ann said, “had the gall, too, to want his state retirement sent to him in Mexico!” (Bonelli’s retirement fund continued to accumulate. At the time of his death, the fund had grown to $91,187.)
San Diego District Attorney James Don Keller told the San Diego Union in a story related to announcement of Bonelli’s death: "I always said Bonelli would be assured of a fair trial here. It’s remarkable that this case closes at the time that I’m concluding my career — after all the years of investigation and prosecution in this matter.” Keller, the Union noted, “will retire in January after serving 24 years as district attorney.”
In 1972 Bompensiero’s friend Frank La Porte died of a heart attack. Infamous for his gambling, prostitution, vending machine and other rackets, La Porte was denied a public funeral mass by the Archdiocese of Chicago. I had wondered what happened between La Porte and Bompensiero after the El Centro calamity, but Mary Ann did not know.
Bompensiero and Marie had established a routine. “Marie,” Mary Ann said, “could only see in one eye after Momo shot her. So she shopped in the morning, when it was light. She took my dad’s dry cleaning and laundry out. She cooked in the afternoon. For my dad’s dinner, she would warm something up. He didn’t like his food steaming hot. He liked the flavors, when the food had set for a while. And, frankly, she would be drinking most of the day. She had been drinking for years. She was drinking when I was a girl. If my dad had company, he had to go out and buy a bottle of scotch. Because of Marie. He couldn’t keep liquor in the house. Every day he’d buy her a six-pack of beer. He was embarrassed by her drinking. But he was kind to her. She’d get started on something and he’d just say, ’Marie...’ He made excuses for her. When she got out of hand, he’d say, 'Well, it was that bullet.’ ”
The marriage didn’t alter Bompensiero’s routine. “My dad came by every day. By then I had married again, to Bill. My dad liked Bill, a lot. He wanted to be careful not to interfere. The kids were teenagers. Frankie drank Coca-Cola. My father asked Bill’s permission to buy it for him. He wanted Bill to feel like the man of the house; he didn’t want Bill to feel that he was intruding on our marriage. ‘Bill, you don’t care, do you?’ he’d ask my husband, anytime he wanted to buy the kids something. My father would make a little bow and say to my husband that he’d like to do it. ‘It’s my pleasure,’ my father would say.”
Mary Ann said that she and Bill saw her father every weekend. “Saturday mornings, he’d come by. I would sit and have coffee with them. Then, I would move, get up and do laundry, that sort of thing, so the guys could talk. Bill, on weekends, liked to eat about ten or eleven o’clock in the morning. He’d grown up on Southern cooking and he’d fix things like fried eggs and fried pork chops, Southern cooking. My dad really liked this stuff. But when Bill would make shit on the shingle, that’s when my dad was happiest. When he was in the Army is when he first ate that and he always had a taste for it.”
After the El Centro incident had resolved itself, Bompensiero began to go every weekday to Tarantino’s on North Harbor Drive for his lunch. Chris Petti, born Christopher Poulos in 1937 in Illinois, often came by and had lunch with Bompensiero. Pete Tenner, who for a time was in business with Petti, dropped in. Pete Marcos was often there. Marcos’s mother for many years had run the Turk Cafe, a Greek restaurant not far from Bompensiero’s Gold Rail. Occasionally Nicholas DePento, a lawyer, came in. DePento’s office manager, Joe Stead came. These men were younger than Bompensiero. In later years it would be said that Petti was Bompensiero’s bodyguard and driver, but the truth was that Petti didn’t drive and Bompensiero never had a bodyguard.
Bruce worked as a waiter at Tarantino’s from 1974 until 1977. He regularly waited on Bompensiero’s table. I asked how Bompensiero looked in those years. “He was an older gentleman by then. He was stocky, balding, always had a cigar in his mouth or hand. He would wear suits or a jacket and trousers. When he sat down at the table, he would take off his jacket. He rarely wore ties.”
Bompensiero sat at a table in the bar area, a table set between the bar and a row of tables that ran along the windows by the walkway. Bruce said, “It was lunch that he came for. It was pretty much a routine. I suspect that he was a creature of routine. He showed up a little before noon, about eleven-thirty. His stay would go on into the afternoon, after almost everybody else had left.”
When Bruce first worked at Tarantino’s, he addressed Bompensiero as "Mr. Bompensiero.” After a short time, Bompensiero asked Bruce to call him Frank, and Bruce did. “When I was a kid I started at 12 working on tuna boats and I always looked up to the Portuguese and Italian fishermen as heroes, like Hemingway did — the old man and the sea.” Bruce said that Bompensiero reminded him of these men. “He seemed to be a real self-assured man. Dignified. You knew this was a guy people looked up to. People visited him. Usually four would be at the table. Sometimes as many as six or seven. Pete Marcos was around a lot. They called him ‘Big Pete,’ he was huge. He was maybe six-two. Chris Petti was almost always there. Nick DePento came in and out. He wasn’t there all the time. There were people who came in from other places.” Bruce recalled seeing Leo Moceri several times and Fratianno and Johnny Rosselli. He recalled that, at Bompensiero’s table, “They spoke in English and then there were times they would switch into Italian.”
Most of the time, said Bruce, Bompensiero was soft-spoken. “There were times when there was some growling going on. The majority of the time there wasn’t. There was a lot of joking going on at the table. Laughter.”
Bruce remembered that on occasion, maybe a dozen times, he saw Chris Petti bring in several guys, perhaps to receive a scolding from Bompensiero. On those occasions, said Bruce, “Chris would always stand up. He would never sit down. He would seem to be watching over the discussions that were going on between Frank and these men. During these discussions, these men always addressed Frank as ‘Mr. Bompensiero.’ My impression was that these people were being summarily chastised.
“It was out in the parking lot that they would get going. The only reason I would see this was that I was either leaving or outside, emptying things. But I remember that there were occasions when they would be out there and the conversation was heated and Frank would be holding his cigar in a stern way and jabbing it, perhaps to make a point. I knew at those times that something was not right, that he was annoyed.”
Bruce said that he never knew that Bompensiero had anything to do with anything illegal until after he was in his senior year in law school. “It was really a shock. In a restaurant business a lot of what you hear is to be taken with not too much credibility. Since I was not a person to accept whatever I heard, I had dismissed it as just talk.”
And what did Bompensiero order? “He loved calamari, cooked real special, in a certain way. Rather than cutting it in steaks, the squid was cut crosswise and lightly breaded. He liked it with lots and lots of pepper and lots of lemon. Otherwise, he almost always ate fish. Vince Tarantino would make special things for him. He liked a salad of tomatoes and cucumber with feta cheese — the feta cheese crumpled over the cucumber and tomato and lettuce. He didn’t eat desserts.”
Bompensiero sometimes stayed at the restaurant far into the afternoon. “The Tarantinos had a collection of old boxing films of Archie Moore, Marciano, Sonny Liston, Ali. They would show these. They would close off the back room and the guys watched these movies — Frank, Pete, Chris, and anybody else who happened to be there. There would be quite a few people. Usually that was in the late afternoon, always on a weekday. Always they enjoyed being there when there were less people. They showed them on an old home movie screen, you would hear the click-click of the projector, and the pictures as they showed up on the screen would be vibrating, like in the old news-reels. They didn’t like to be bothered when that was going on. We would take things in before and after but while the movies were going on the doors were left closed.”
Bruce said that unlike many people he waited on that Bompensiero took an interest in him, that he asked him about himself. Bompensiero knew that Bruce was in law school, that much of the time he rode a bicycle to work and to school. He left Bruce large tips. “And,” said Bruce, “when I was out in the parking lot, getting ready to go home, he sometimes would walk out and hand me an envelope. ‘Look,’ he’d say, ‘this is for your school.’ ” When Bruce opened these envelopes, he would find cash. How much, he said he preferred not to say.
I asked Bruce if there were anything else he wanted to say about Bompensiero. “Yes,” he said, “he did have a big, big heart, Frank did. You always remember someone, who, when you are going through a time of need, they help. Lots of people will pass by a stranded dog or a homeless person in the rain and never notice. Frank Bompensiero was one of these guys who stop and notice.”
Jimmy Fratianno was released from Chino state prison on August 27, 1973, after serving time for parole violation. Soon after he left prison, he, too, became an informer, chatting regularly with an FBI agent. He later would explain, “I got out of jail and I didn’t have any money.” The FBI offered him cash for information, he said, and over the next two years paid him $16,000.
At some point after Fratianno’s release from prison, according to his account in The Last Mafioso, Bompensiero and Fratianno visited Frank Sinatra’s home in Palm Springs. The occasion was a piece of madness engineered by Fratianno, in which Sinatra would be made a member of the Order of the Knights of Malta, a Roman Catholic organization with headquarters in Rome. The order’s United Nations representative was present. Fratianno has Bompensiero say to the representative, “Excuse me, but while you’re over there in Rome, could you get a papal blessing for my mother? Her name was Maria Anna.” “Of course," the representative says, “I will see to it personally. I will have it mailed directly to your home.”
In early 1974 Bompensiero and Marie moved from the Reed Avenue apartment where they’d lived for almost ten years into a new building at 4205 Lamont. Set in among modest prewar houses, the four-story blue-and-white structure dominated its Pacific Beach neighborhood. It was called the Beach Club. Among its amenities were security doors and an underground parking garage.
Bompensiero’s two-bedroom condominium — number seven — was on the third floor. His name, however, was not next to the buzzer that you stuck out your index finger and punched to announce your arrival. Frank Gavin was the name taped next to number seven’s buzzer. The condominium, Mary Ann said, was a big improvement over the Reed Avenue apartment, which always seemed dark, airless, and crowded with Marie’s possessions.
Mary Ann recalled that on rare occasions her father attended large social events. She remembered that during this period there was a big New Year’s Eve party. She thought that the party might have been held at the Kona Kai Club. “Chris Petti and his wife Virgie came. She was wearing a gorgeous black mink coat. She was a beautiful woman, Virgie was. Mickey Cohen was there. I didn’t even realize at the time who he was. He looked like a shriveled-up old man to me. What I mostly remember about that party was that I had a godawful cold and had gotten up out of bed to go.” Cohen, in 1972, was released from prison after serving ten years on McNeil Island for tax evasion. By the time he began coming regularly to San Diego, he was ill, with stomach cancer, and seeing doctors at Scripps. He also attended the reception at the Bahia Hotel for Mary Ann’s daughter’s wedding, in 1974. By then, said Mary Ann, Mickey Cohen was a crippled-up old man. He walked with two canes and he had two bodyguards. “He gave her $450, in an envelope.”
I asked someone who knew Cohen and Bompensiero if Cohen expressed hard feelings toward Bompensiero, given that Bompensiero, during the Dragna-Cohen bookmaking wars, apparently took a shot at Cohen. He didn’t think so. He thought they were old men who had put all that behind them. He thought they both knew that trying to kill each other was just their way of doing business.
When Bompensiero’s grandchildren married in the early 1970s, the number of stops on Bompensiero’s morning route increased. He stopped first at the home of Frankie and his bride. And then he went by the home of Santa and her husband. He drank coffee with Frankie’s wife and with Santa. He surreptitiously looked about to see if anything was needed. His grandson was just getting started in business. Bompensiero bought them a dining room set. Every week he picked up Frankie’s young wife and drove her to Vons. He pushed the cart and gave advice on fruits and vegetables and fish and meat.
Mary Ann laughed, remembering this. “He would fill her cart. They had so much food they wouldn’t know what to do. My kids were not going to want for anything. I don’t mean Cadillacs, I mean comfort in the home. There’s this saying, ‘When you get 18, we are not going to break your plate.’ Some families, when the kids turn 18, their parents make them pay rent or get out of the house. We weren’t raised like that. Up until he died, up until they killed him, every week, he took Frankie’s wife shopping. Frankie used to say, ‘Papa, you don’t need to do this,’ and my dad would say what he always said, ‘Frankie, I want to do it, no problem. When you are first getting started, it’s not so easy.’ Alter Frankie and his wife had little Frankie, my dad put a jar up on their kitchen counter. Every time he came by, he emptied the change out of his pockets into that jar. ‘For my little great-grandson. For his college,’ he said.”
I talked one morning with a retired gentleman who, working in a department of local law enforcement, surveilled Bompensiero from 1975 until 1977. Bompensiero, he said, “was the key man in the 1970s.” He remembered him as “a dapperly dressed gentleman. He always looked very sporty, dressed in what you might call 'the Southern California look.’ Frank in his later years, as a bad guy, wasn’t that much of a threat. What he was, was a draw for bad guys everywhere. In terms of a threat to society as an individual, he was no longer what he may have been back in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s. But through his background and his status in the Mafia, he drew all these people in whom law enforcement was interested. That in itself was actually the draw card.”
Few people, at the time, knew that Bompensiero and Armstrong talked. My retired friend said that he became aware of Bompensiero’s informant status when he was advised by his superiors that he best not waste his time looking at him. It was then that he learned Bompensiero was an informant. But, he said, he believed that few if any local law enforcement people knew of Bompensiero and Armstrong’s relationship. The federal authorities, he said, “were not sharing their information with us. So it was incumbent on us to conduct our investigations. I felt compelled to monitor Bompensiero. I owed it to all my fellow officers in other agencies. On a weekly basis, they wanted to know who it was he was talking to. They wanted to know who is he with, who is he meeting, what are they talking about. Our main concern was to monitor out-of-town OC [organized crime] types. So that whether he was a federal informant or not, did not matter.” Local agencies, he said, as had many other local law enforcement retirees who worked during this period, did not have the money, manpower, and equipment that federal agencies had. “We had to depend upon a lot of legwork and a lot of guesswork.
“When I arrived on the scene, the first thing I was told by local investigators was that Frank was impossible to surveil. I, having come from a lengthy experience in surveying, took that as a challenge. I quickly got a pattern on Frank, very early on. Without fail here is what he would do. He would leave the Lamont Street apartment between 9:00 and 9:30 each weekday morning. He arrived at his grandson’s house at about 9:25, like clockwork. He would stay there for about ten minutes and then go on to his daughter Mary Ann’s house. He would spend more time there. It got to the point that once I set up his pattern, I knew what he was going to do. It was rare that he changed his routine. So that soon, I didn’t bother with him in the morning. I would pick him up at lunchtime.” Typically, in these years, Bompensiero ate at Tarantino’s, the Butcher Shop, or the Shelter Island Inn. The latter, said the retiree, “was the place they tended to go in the last six months of Bompensiero’s life.” Bompensiero’s companions during those years were the same that Bruce, the waiter at Tarantino’s, remembered — Chris Petti, Pete Marcos, Pete Tenner, a physician whose name the retiree did not wish to mention, because the man still is alive. “Sometimes,” he said, “the doctor and Frank would go off alone and talk for a few minutes. They were talking, I think, about Frank’s health.” He added that he did not want to leave the impression that Bompensiero only took meals with people who were alleged to be organized crime figures or hangers-on to organized crime figures. “There would be many people who were not in any way involved in anything who ate lunch with Bompensiero and these guys.
“I would sit near them and eat lunch. I would look away but my ears were pricked up to try to pick up dialogue.” The retiree noted that during this period he gained weight and his blood pressure went up, “just from the lifestyle. They would spend several hours over lunch. Bompensiero would go home in early afternoon and other than the shopping, the only other thing he would do was to go to the pay phone and make telephone calls. That became such a routine that after a while it was not all that valuable to me as a surveilling officer to watch him talk at the phone booth.” Occasionally, they would use a camper when they followed Bompensiero. "We parked directly in front of his house.” He recalled seeing Marie, gazing out from an open window. Many a day, he watched Bompensiero shop at Vons in Pacific Plaza. He did not recall that he ever saw Marie leave the apartment to go to the grocery store. “He seemed to do it all. You consider him an organized crime figure, but here he was at Vons, an everyday older gentleman, doing the grocery shopping.”
Nick Licata had died of natural causes in October, 1974. One hundred fifty people attended his funeral. Whether one of those in attendance was Bompensiero, I do not know. Dominic Brooklier succeeded Licata as Los Angeles headman. Brooklier, born Dominic Bruccoleri in 1913 in Palermo, as a young man did time in the Ohio State Penitentiary. Brooklier and Fratianno became friends at the tough Ohio prison. Brooklier came out to Los Angeles after World War II ended. Calling himself “Jimmy Regace,” Brooklier worked for a time as a strong-arm thug for Mickey Cohen and then switched sides and worked as a strongarm thug for Jack Dragna. According to Fratianno, he and Brooklier were “made” on the same evening in 1947. Again, according to Fratianno, Brooklier, on the Dragna side, participated in the Cohen — Dragna wars for control of LA’s gambling outlets, shooting at and missing his old boss Cohen. After Dragna’s death in 1956, Brooklier, who by then owned a used-car dealership in suburban Maywood, allied himself with Frank Desimone, and then after Desimone’s death, with Licata.
“I don’t know what it was,” Brooklier’s son, now a prominent Los Angeles attorney, once told the Los Angeles Times. “I saw it when I was five years old. My father could walk into a place, and for whatever reason, the room would stop. It was as if every eye was on him. He just had an incredible charisma in a very subtle way. He wasn’t loud, he wasn’t fast-talking, he was understated. But men respected my father.”
Frank Bompensiero did not respect Brooklier. What, precisely, had.gone bad between them, I do not know. But Bompensiero had nothing good to say about Brooklier. Likewise, Brooklier had nothing good to say about Bompensiero. He was rumored to be concerned that Bompensiero might be trying to take over all California. Bompensiero was on easy terms with family members in San Jose and San Francisco, he was in communication with Joseph Bonanno in his Tucson exile. He kept up his connections with Chicago, Detroit, and Ohio. He had gotten to know Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro, whom the Chicago family had sent to Vegas to keep watch over its holdings there. But for all this, it is unlikely that Bompensiero had anything as grandiose in mind as what Brooklier feared. It is more likely that Bompensiero was urged by his FBI handler to keep in touch with various families.
A retired FBI agent who knew Fratianno and had spent many days and nights talking with him, told me, about Bompensiero’s attitude toward the post-Dragna Los Angeles family, “Frank was nontraditional in that he respected the rules of La Cosa Nostra but didn’t pay much attention to the hierarchy. He didn’t care if he was speaking to the Chicago family or the LA family, but he did believe in the organization. The LA group had treated Bompensiero, after he got out of prison in 1960, with benign neglect. Bompensiero far more so than Jimmy Fratianno, I think, held them all in contempt. Bompensiero was king of his own territory down there in San Diego, but he still paid lip service to the LA people and so did Jimmy. Jimmy was still a petty thief at heart in many ways and he wanted to be the big guy and for a while sort of was. Although late in the 1970s, Jimmy, who had been living in and was active in San Francisco in the mid-1970s, he really didn’t have his own territory like Frank did, and he wanted that, wanted that bad, wanted to establish that separate family in San Francisco, and couldn’t get it done. I think it could have been done. He could have worked something out with Jimmy Lanza at the time, who was about as senile as anybody ever was.”
April 9, 1975, Brooklier and several Los Angeles family members, including Sam Sciortino and Peter Milano, were convicted of extorting money from Los Angeles bookmakers and businessmen. Sentences ranged from 15 months to four years. Brooklier’s second-in-command, Louis Tom Dragna, was engrossed in his Roberta Manufacturing Company. Brooklier, concerned that the family would fall apart while he was in prison, named Fratianno as acting co-chief, with Dragna, of the LA family.
Fratianno later would testify in a federal courtroom to a meeting that took place between himself, Brooklier, Sciortino, and Peter Milano in April or May, 1975. Fratianno asked Brooklier why the family stayed away from shakedowns of out-of-state pornographers that were working in Los Angeles. Brooklier answered, “Nick Licata thought it was por carilla — dirt — and that we shouldn’t fool with it.” Fratianno testified that Brooklier then added, “From now on we are going to fool with it."
At that same meeting, according to Fratianno’s sworn testimony, Brooklier mentioned Bompensiero. “Jimmy,” he said, “I want you to take care of this guy. He’s going around shooting his mouth off. Try to straighten him out while we’re away in prison.”
In June Brooklier and Sciortino entered prison. Fratianno took on the role of family co-don in his usual manic, heedless manner. Dressed in what he described as “dap threads,” he began to fly about the United States, from one family center to another, introducing himself. He made deals first with one man and then the next. He gossiped and glad-handed. More than once he neglected to mention that he was only co-chief.
According to Fratianno’s later sworn testimony, Louis Tom Dragna was the first LA family member who spoke to him about killing Bompensiero. In early summer, 1975, Dragna made Bompensiero the family consigliere, or counselor. “He told me,” Fratianno testified, “ ‘that way it will relax Frank and it will give us a good chance to clip him.’ ” Bompensiero was told of his promotion, Fratianno said, and “Frank was very, very delighted.”
Dragna and Fratianno considered three ways to kill Bompensiero — a bomb in his Mustang, a drive into a remote area where they’d shoot the old man, or luring him out of the house at night to a phone booth and shooting him as he walked in the dark. Eventually, they abandoned the first two options. Fratianno later would testify that at Louis Tom Dragna’s behest, “I called Frank one day, and I said, 'This is no good, talking on your home phone. Why don’t you get a number of a pay phone where I can call you?’ ” Fratianno said that Bompensiero agreed, and began to walk down to the pay phone at the Arco station on the corner of Grand and Lamont. Bompensiero gave Fratianno the pay phone’s number — 273-9261. Fratianno later testified that he gave this number to Brooklier and Thomas Ricciardi. But Fratianno also later would testify that he didn’t really want to kill his old friend Cheech. He said, “Don’t you think if I wanted to kill him, I could have choked him and buried him somewhere? This man was my friend.”
June 19, 1975, Sam Giancana, former head of the Chicago family, was shot to death in his Oak Park, Illinois, basement. July 30, 1975, former Teamsters president James R. Hoffa disappeared. Mary Ann recalled that her father said, about Hoffa, “They’ll never find him.”
The retiree who for several years had surveilled Bompensiero said that he was aware that Joe Bonanno and Bompensiero were in touch during the 1970s. “Bonanno was communicating with Frank at that pay telephone.” In Tucson, intelligence agents picked through Bonanno’s trash. “I was privy to the materials that were coming out of that trash picking. The Bonannos were trying to reestablish themselves and they were attempt ing to accomplish this with the help of Frank." Bonanno, he said, “kept meticulous notes and had code names for people. His name for Frank was ‘Cigaro.’ ”
Bonanno, the retiree said, had a cousin in Encinitas. During the Christmas holiday season of either 1975-76 or 1976-77, he was not sure which, “we heard that Bonanno and his wife were coming from Tucson to Los Angeles and then to Encinitas. Our objective at the time was to see if he made contact with Frank. Bonanno was in Encinitas on New Year’s Eve — either 1976 or 1977. We watched him. He went to a pay phone and did his routine. We never knew if he called Frank. We followed Bonanno and his wife to mass on New Year’s Eve to a church in Solana Beach. The priest’s sermon had to do with violence, with taking people’s lives, and there was Joe Bonanno standing erect and looking very pious.”
This story has been told so many times in law enforcement circles that it’s taken on the glow of legend. An FBI agent — Jack Larson — on March 7, 1976, at the Murietta Hot Springs Hotel Coffee Shop, eavesdropped on a conversation between Fratianno and Louis Tom Dragna. Fratianno, per usual, was discussing his need for money. He said to Dragna, “Well, I want a piece of the porno." Dragna replied, “Don’t worry about it. You’ll get it.”
“That conversation,” writes Michael Zuckerman in Vengeance Is Mine: Jimmy the Weasel Fratianno Tells How He Brought the Kiss of Death to the Mafia, “when reported to [FBI agent] Jack Barron in Los Angeles, gave birth to Forex.”
Jack Armstrong, according to Zuckerman’s account, would later tell a Los Angeles jury that Bompensiero never knew that Forex was an FBI front. “Armstrong said that all he had told Bompensiero was that the FBI was interested in Forex, that it was a new company and it was making $100,000 or $200,000 annually selling pornography in South America; and anything Bompensiero could tell him about the company would be greatly appreciated. Armstrong said he knew Bompensiero could be counted on to take the bait and run to Fratianno.”
Brooklier, at this time, was still in prison. Fratianno continued his manic travels about the country, insinuating himself into one after another family councils. June 6, 1976, he even took it upon himself to make a new member of the Los Angeles family. Mike Rizzitello, also known as Mike Rizzi, had attached himself to Fratianno during Fratianno’s year as co-boss. Rizzi, in the worst way, wanted to be made. Fratianno arranged to meet Louis Tom Dragna and Bompensiero at the Murietta Hot Springs Hotel Coffee Shop. According to Fratianno's testimony to Ovid Demaris, this is what happened:
“They ordered coffee and Jimmy said, ‘Well, how’re we going to do this?’ “
‘Why don’t we have Bomp say the words,’ Dragna said. ‘He can do it in Sicilian.’
" 'Okay, so where’re we going to do it?’ Bomp asked.
“Jimmy shrugged. ‘Let’s do it in the car, find some deserted spot and park. We don’t have a gun and knife, but I brought a pin.’
“Dragna drove and Rizzi sat in front with him, with Jimmy and Bompensiero in the back. A few miles out of Murietta, Dragna swung onto a dirt road and stopped when they were out of sight of the highway. They held hands while Bompensiero quickly rattled out the strange-sounding liturgy....
“Bompensiero said, That’s it, now for the blood.’
“ ‘Mike,’ Fratianno said, ‘give me your right hand, the trigger finger.’
“Jimmy punctured the skin and squeezed until he saw blood. ‘Mike, this drop of blood's a symbol of your birth into our family. We’re all as one until death.’ ”
There’s more to this absurd story. Fratianno has Bompensiero, Dragna, Rizzi, and himself, then, kiss and hold hands and carry on about how now they are all amici nostri. I have no idea if this happened or if it did, if it happened this way. But if Bompensiero did drive out on a dark road and do all this, he must have had his tongue deep in his round cheek.
FBI agent Jack Barron, stationed in Los Angeles, had hoped to lure Fratianno with the Forex scam. But Bompensiero was unable to interest Fratianno in Forex. Instead, only Ricciardi and Jack LoCicero took the bait. Ricciardi and LoCiero met in Van Nuys with two FBI agents — Jack Larson and J.C. Fishbeck — who wore body wires while they posed as pornographers. The tapes later would be played in court. Ricciardi would be heard telling the agents: “Anything illegal done in California goes mostly through us because we represent the people in California here. You understand that?” LoCicero added his two cents: “We want a piece of the action and if you don’t come across, you might as well pack and move, because we’re gonna stop you doing business." And so on and on.
Forex came across. In a second meeting the two FBI agents handed over to the Los Angeles family members an initial payment of $5000.
The retired gentleman who surveilled Bompensiero recalled that in the summer of 1976 when he trailed Bompensiero, that “all of a sudden Bompensiero starts heading for the airport. We go, ‘Oh, boy, he’s going to catch a plane.’ So we decide to follow him and see what he’s up to. Turns out he’s headed for San Francisco. We get on the plane. We get to the City. Lo and behold, Bompensiero meets Fratianno at the San Francisco airport. They go up to the Sky Room. We sat up there and had lunch and Frank was chewing the hell out of Jimmy. Poking that cigar, sticking out his finger. Jimmy just took it. Frank came back that same day and so did we.” Later, he said, they learned the reason for Bompensiero’s reprimand of Fratianno. “What had happened was that Fratianno and Mike Rizzi had in their infinite wisdom gone to Sidney Korshak’s office in Century City to try to sell some contributions for a fundraiser. They muscled their way into the office and tried, in their way, to intimidate Korshak.” Korshak, a prominent attorney, fell under the protection of the Chicago family, a family ruled then by Joey “Doves” Aiuppa and Jackie Cerone. Korshak apparently had contacted Aiuppa and Cerone and complained about Fratianno and Rizzi’s call upon him. “California," the retiree explained, “was beholden to the Chicago syndicate and Frank had to answer up to that Aiuppa fellow and Jackie Cerone and the guys running things in Chicago at that time.” Aiuppa and Cerone summoned Bompensiero to Chicago and, as the retiree put it, “chewed Frank up one side and down the other. They wanted Fratianno and Rizzi killed, right then. ‘How dare they try to bamboozle Korshak!’ Frank somehow talked them into not doing it.”
Wednesday, July 28, 1976, 71-year-old Johnny Rosselli, who got his start with Capone and served as Jack Dragna’s consigliere, drove away from his sister’s Plantation, Florida, home. She would never see her brother alive again. Rosselli, in the 1950s, had suggested to Mary Ann and Bompensiero that Mary Ann’s son was handsome enough to be in movies and that he’d be glad to get him a screen test. Bompensiero was outraged. He didn’t want any relative of his in show business. Rosselli and Bompensiero had been on the outs for years. Bompensiero thought Rosselli a dandy. a “Prince of Wales.” Rosselli in June, 1976, had suggested to Fratianno that Bompensiero had become a snitch. But Rosselli had been seen around Washington, D.C., talking to a Senate committee. He, himself, had been marked as a snitch. August 7, Rosselli’s sister received a telephone call from the police. Her brother’s corpse had been found. His body had been cut up and placed in a rusting 55-gallon oil drum and the drum had been tossed into the Intracoastal Waterway.
Charles Rappleye and Ed Becker conclude in All-American Mafioso: The Johnny Rosselli Story: “It seemed apparent early on that Rosselli’s murder had indeed been ordered and sanctioned by the Mafia.... The primary sources for the detectives were underworld informants in Florida, and Frank Bompensiero in San Diego, who had overheard discussions of the murder by the leaders of the national crime syndicate.”
September 2, 1976, Leo Moceri was reported missing and presumed dead after his damaged and bloodstained automobile was discovered in a motel parking lot in an Akron suburb. Not long after that Mary Ann asked her father if he’d heard from Uncle Jimmy lately. Her father, she said, looked troubled, and said, “No. Poor Leo, he had an accident.”
Did Mary Ann think that her father feared he’d be next? “ ‘Automobile accident, plane crash, or someone will shoot me,’ that’s what he used to say."
Michael Zuckerman writes in Vengeance Is Mine, that in November, 1976, Fratianno and Los Angeles family members Jack LoCicero, Mike Rizzi, and Thomas Ricciardi were served with subpoenas from the federal grand jury investigating pornography and pornographers. “The agents who served the subpoenas were the same men who had posed as pornographers; the men LoCicero and Ricciardi had shaken down on Bompensiero’s recommendation.”
“That’s when we knew for sure that Frank was an informant,” Fratianno said. Fratianno called Bompensiero and asked him how he learned about Forex. Bompensiero claimed that he’d been introduced to them by a person who ran a pornography store.
Bompensiero also was called to Los Angeles to testify before the grand jury. The gentleman who so often surveilled Bompensiero was at Tarantino’s soon after the Los Angeles family and Bompensiero were subpoenaed. “Bompensiero’s behavior,” he said, “began during this time to change. Frank had never been much of a drinker. But during this period, he began to drink a lot. I told my cohorts about this. We knew that something was up. About a week before the grand jury was to meet, he was at lunch at Tarantino’s. He ordered a mixed drink with a beer back. He was loud, which Frank never really was. He was going, ‘Yeah, canary, tweet, tweet,’ alluding to the fact that there was an informant, that someone had snitched him off He was extremely loud. He was actually obnoxious. I followed him, leaving the place. He was driving about 55 mph in the Mustang. He almost hit the center divider. He was in those days very flushed. He must have been feeling very pressured. I saw a complete change in personality and actions. He was extremely nervous." He recalled that he followed Bompensiero to Los Angeles. Bompensiero’s lawyer, Nicholas DePento, drove. When Bompensiero and the other Los Angeles family members arrived at the federal courthouse, he said that what he distinctly remembered “was Bompensiero’s being separate from the other guys. They were rather distinctly away from him on the steps. They kept to themselves, which at the time I thought very interesting. They were inconspicuously away from him. There was just Frank and DePento, on the steps.”
Bompensiero refused to testify. DePento said, after the hearing, “I never advocate talking freely to any police agency without benefit of counsel.” He said, about Bompensiero, “He totally objects to pornography and he wouldn’t even watch an R-rated movie in his motel room.”
Fratianno reported that early in 1977, Sam Sciortino said to him, about Bompensiero, “That guy is a lying son of a bitch. We ought to kill him.” And Brooklier, by then out of prison and in charge once again of the LA family, agreed. Brooklier, according to Fratianno, said, “Bomp is a wrong guy and he’s no good. We got to do something about him. He’s an informant.”
Bompensiero, in January, 1977, had cataract surgery. Mary Ann remembered that he was in the hospital during Jimmy Carter’s inauguration. “He called me up. He said, ‘Baby, I’m watching television with my bionic eye.’ Then he’d stop talking a minute and you knew something on the TV had gotten his attention. Then he said, Tm watching them walk down the street...’ "After Bompensiero got out of the hospital, he made an effort to walk around the neighborhood during the day to get back his strength.
I have heard from various sources that sometime in the first week of February, an attempt was made on Bompensiero’s life. One man, long retired from local law enforcement, told it this way. “There was a dry run made on him a week before it happened. Two LA hoods were down here, to do him, they were staking him out. Some uniform car got on them. They were picked up a block away, sitting with shotguns. They got shook down. I knew a hit was out on him. I went to Armstrong and I said, ‘These guys are going to sandbag him up there. Why the hell don’t you pull him out?’ Armstrong said, ‘He's a fatalist. He doesn’t want to be pulled. He figures he’s going to die sometime anyway, and he’s a fatalist.’ I said, ‘Well, you are going to have his blood on your hands when he goes, no matter what he is.’ ” The lawman continued, his face set in a deep frown. “Bompensiero wasn’t any fatalist. He was a good-time Charlie, he liked his cigars, he liked his rare steak and his pasta, he liked to talk to people. I don’t believe it for a minute that he was just a fatalist. But he signed his own death warrant by doing it, by talking to Armstrong and that bunch.”
Armstrong later would testify in a court case that Bompensiero had regularly been counseled that his life was in danger. He would say that he had urged Bompensiero to place his car in private parking. He would say that Bompensiero declined to take precautions and expressed disdain for the Los Angeles family. He would say that Bompensiero was offered protection in the government’s witness protection program, but turned all such suggestions aside.
Monday, February 7, Bompensiero met friends for lunch at Tarantino’s. According to the San Diego Union’s Mitch Himaka,
“From 12:55 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., five men sat in a booth at Tarantino’s Restaurant in Point Loma enjoying their lunch and talking. The subject under discussion was a federal grand jury indictment which named two of the men.”
At lunch that day with Bompensiero were Chris Petti, Robert Benjamin, David Gottlieb, and Lany Saunders. Himaka noted that “Benjamin and Gottlieb, along with Arthur F. Schulman and Earl John Rodde and Beach Cities Coatings and Construction Co., 722 Genevieve Street, Solana Beach, had been indicted three days earlier by a federal grand jury. They were charged with one count of conspiracy and 10 counts of causing false statements to be filed in loan applications to federally insured lending institutions. The five men were discussing the actions that would be taken with regard to the indictment, according to intelligence sources.”
According to Zuckerman’s Vengeance Is Mine, Fratianno later would testify that on February 9, 1977, he met Bompensiero, Chris Petti, Abe Chapman, and Jimmy Styles, who was connected to the Bonanno family. They met, Fratianno said, at the San Francisco Hilton. According to Fratianno, Bompensiero asked him to join them for dinner at Montefusco’s Restaurant. Jimmy would forever insist that he did not know what they discussed that evening or why they met.
About that evening, Fratianno later said, “No, I didn’t say nothing to Bomp. I knew this poor motherfucker was as good as dead while we were sitting there drinking wine and eating. But that was his fuckin' problem. If I warned him, it would become my problem.”
Thursday, February 10, Bompensiero got up early. The sun was shining. It was going to be another pretty day. He dressed in dark green slacks, a white, short-sleeved shirt, and a rust brown cardigan. He walked around the neighborhood. He smoked his cigar. He didn’t visit Frankie’s house. He didn’t visit Santa. Was he afraid that someone would follow him there? We will never know. At noon, he met DePento at Tarantino’s. They sat at Bompensiero’s usual table.
What Bompensiero did that afternoon, no one knows. The man who surveilled Bompensiero for the last two years of his life had been called into his office on another matter. “Otherwise,” he said, “I might have been there.” He wasn’t there. Armstrong, someone told me, was back in Washington, D.C., that day. I don’t know if he was or he wasn’t.
Bompensiero may have watched Channel 10 news. He may have watched Lassie, a long-time favorite of his. A Lassie rerun was shown on television from 7:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Marie, apparently, was dozing. I don’t know if he had dinner that night. The autopsy does not mention stomach contents. He may have sat alone with his thoughts for a few minutes. He must have known that they were going to come for him. I think that he was a fatalist. He had once said to a friend, about killings he’d done, “If God didn’t want them dead, he would’ve stopped the bullets.” I think he believed that about himself. If God didn’t want him dead, then God would stop the bullet. If God did want him dead, well.
Well. He had the appointment to call someone. We can be sure of that. Even if we do not know who that someone was. Fratianno swore it was Dominic Brooklier. But other people have said it was Fratianno himself who asked his old friend Cheech to call him. So Bompensiero, wearing the rust brown cardigan, carrying dimes in the pockets of the forest green trousers, walked downstairs and out the door and down Lamont to the Arco station. The temperature was in the mid-50s. The sky was cloudless. Lights were on in the small houses along Lamont Street. Television sets glowed from windows. People were watching The Waltons and Mobil Oil Presents. Bompensiero strolled down to the pay phone by the Arco station and dialed whomever he dialed.
They were waiting. The wheel man and the shooter. I don’t know what they were driving. No one does. The shooter had a .22, equipped, apparently, with a silencer.
Bompensiero turned, then, and started toward home. He had three dimes in his hand, the Bering in his mouth. You could see the stars that night and he must have looked up at them as he started walking south, on Lamont, from Thomas Avenue, back toward the Beach Club. I imagine that I can hear his footsteps against the cement. He soon arrived, only feet away from the tall picket fence. This would be the fence behind which Bompensiero’s assailant was hiding. Gripping the .22-caliber automatic, he waits. What, for instance, gpes through the gunman’s mind? What does he see, as he stands here, maybe behind the fence, peering out perhaps, toward Grand Avenue. Can he see Bompensiero walk toward him? Can he hear his footsteps? Can he smell the smoke from Bompensiero’s cigar? Does he think that soon he will do to Bompensiero what Bompensiero did to so many men?
Bompensiero steps from the curb at the intersection of the alley that runs west from Lamont Street, about halfway between Thomas and Reed Avenues.
The gunman fires his first shot into Bompensiero’s head from behind. Does the gunman whisper, politely, “Good evening, Frank”? Does the gunman hiss, “So-and-so sent me”?
We are not going to know.
The first shot is followed quickly by three more. The shots are fired into the side of his balding head, high, above the ear.
Fratianno would later testify that Jack LoCicero drove the car and Thomas Ricciardi shot the gun. Fratianno testified that Ricciardi said to him, “You know, when I clipped Bomp he gave me a little struggle. But it was beautiful. There was no noise. It went along beautiful.”
We don’t want to leave Ricciardi with the last word. We don’t.
Mary Ann gets the last word. “My dad always said, ‘When I’m dead, baby, stick a cigar in my mouth. I want a cigar.’ So I wanted to put a cigar in his mouth for the viewing. The funeral director didn’t like the idea. He put a cigar in his hand and folded his hand around it. And he stuck several cigars in his pocket. My father’s face looked awful. I didn’t want anyone to see him. He looked like a wax museum. After the family viewing, we had the casket locked. I didn’t want anyone to see my dad like that. After the Rosary, we went over to Marie’s. A guy came over to me, a friend of my father’s, I’d rather not say his name. He whispered in my ear, ‘Mary Ann, I want you to know that your father didn’t go down begging. He went down like a man.’ ”
Mary Ann paused. "My dad when it happened, he probably didn’t say, ‘Don’t shoot me, don’t shoot me.’ He probably said, ‘Go ahead, you son-of-a-bitch, shoot me. I know I’m going to get it anyway.’ ”
— Judith Moore
Judith Moore has received two NEA Fellowships for literature, most recently in 1996. Last April, she was named as recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is coauthor with Sue Coe of X, published by Raw Books and Graphics and reissued by New Press, and author of The Left Coast of Paradise, Soho Press. Her essay collection. Never Eat Your Heart Out, was published in 1997 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and was reissued in paper last summer by North Point Press, a division of Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
(From front page of the Imperial Valley Press's July 7, 1966 issue)
MAFIA PRESENT IN VALLEY
The Mafia is reaching its tentacles into the Imperial Valley. The Bump, the Weasel and Nick the Greek have taken up residence in El Centro. They are operating Fratianno Trucking Lines, Inc., which is engaged in hauling dirt for the new freeway being constructed across the southern edge of the county. They are up to other things as well. Things which are commanding the very close attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the El Centro police, the Los Angeles police, the Sacramento police, the United States Customs Service and no doubt other official bodies. To say nothing of the redoubtable Mexican Policia judicial Federal. Nick the Greek is not THE Nick the Greek but rather just a Nick the Greek. His name is Nick Diacogian, or sometimes Diacogianis or even Mike Claras. He is known to the authorities as a “small-time muscle man." He has a long and sordid police record of burglary and white slavery. Last week he was convicted of beating a truck driver in El Centro.
The Bump and the Weasel, however, are really big game. The Bump is Frank Bompensiero. He is also known as Harry Martin, or William Bonipensiera or Bompensiero, or just plain Bompo. He also goes under the name of James Gavin. His wife Marie was once married to Momo Adamo, a man of great status in the Mafia. Adamo met an untimely end at, according to the records, his own hands. His widow then married a Navy man named Gavin. No one seems to know what happened to him, but the name seems handy. The police like the initials “M.O." They stand for “modus operandi" or “method of operation.” Bompensiero's M.O. on police records is head of the Mafia in San Diego and “muscleman for the Italian people.” By “Italian people" the police arc referring specifically to the Mafia.
BOMPENSIERO “BIG, BIG, BIG"
The Los Angeles Police Department, which keeps an unsleeping eye on the Mafia, and is known to hustle them out of that city as soon as they are identified, says that Bompensiero is “big, big, big." His police record is very long. But like most important men in his group, the convictions are few. In 1955 he was convicted on three counts of bribery and sent to a state prison for five years. He was paroled in May 1960. He was released from that parole in June 1965. The Weasel is Fames T. Fratianno. His first name is really Aladena. He was born in 1903, probably in Ohio. His criminal career started there when he was arrested at the age of 24 for robbery. He spent 14 years in jail for that. In April, 1954, he was convicted of conspiracy to commit extortion. He had offered a California oil company “protection" for three per cent of all production. The Los Angeles police consider Fratianno “rough, rough, rough."
CHARGE DIDN'T STICK
He was picked up by them on suspicion of the 1950 shooting of Mickey Cohen. The charge did not stick. During a state Assembly hearing in San Diego, expert police witnesses credited Fratianno with having killed between 14 and 18 men. Bompensiero, Fratianno and Diacogianis all live in a suite in a State Street motel. The telephone number of the suite is 352-7854. Bompensiero and Fratianno apparently first became interested in the Valley in 1965 after a meeting with Frank La Porte at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. La Porte is a mysterious man. Any number of police departments have tried to get as much as a photograph of him for years. If a picture exists no one will admit it. He is perhaps the biggest man in the Mafia today. He lives in a closely guarded $100,000 home in Flossmore, Illinois. He is reputed to control the notoriously evil Calumet City, Illinois. After the meeting with La Porte, Bompensiero and Fratianno, whose fortunes had evidently been somewhat depleted by their stays in jail, made their appearance in El Centro. They reportedly contacted what police call "an unidentified hood” who worked on both sides of the local border. They were allegedly working on a scheme to ship lard to Mexico. Both men are still apparently active in the “food” business hereabouts. Meanwhile Fratianno had also started a trucking firm in Sacramento — the Fratianno Trucking Co., Inc. The president of the firm is Jewel Fratianno — The Weasel’s wife. The trucking firm had managed to obtain a contract to haul fill for the last 15 miles of freeway into Las Vegas. Presently it is doing the same thing on the freeway running across Imperial County. It is subcontracting to the Miles and Sons Construction Co. The Miles firm is noted for its close political contacts in Sacramento. The Fratianno trucking operation here has some unusual aspects, particularly the relationship between the drivers and the company. The system came to light during Diacogianis’ recent trial.
The firm had sold a 1965 International Harvester tractor-truck to driver James Garrett for $18,500. The payments were to be $477.91 a month for 47 months. A percentage of the payment for each load of dirt transported was to be applied towards the monthly payments. This is known to make the drivers work fast. Recently the county Board of Supervisors asked the law to keep an eye out for the great trucks racing on local roads. The contract signed between Fratianno and Garrett stipulated, among other things, that buyer agrees to lease tractor exclusively to the Fratianno Trucking Co., Inc. Driver and tractor to be under complete control of Fratianno Trucking Co., Inc. Buyer agrees to work whenever and wherever jobs are offered by Fratianno Trucking Co., Inc. The contract also insists that if buyer defaults in any way, “all credits revert to seller, buyer relinquishes all rights to said tractor."
DRIVER COULD LOSE
In other words if the driver does not stand for “complete control" he can lose his truck and all that he has put into it. Garrett was apparently thrashed by Diacogianis when he showed independence. During the trial Fratianno testified that not one of his drivers had ever managed to buy one of the trucks. Four of them have been repossessed in the past two months. They were the only trucks repossessed in El Centro during the period. The local Mafia activities also have an international flavor.
VISITS TO MEXICO
Fratianno has been into Mexico several times of late. The most thoroughly documented recent visit was last April when he went to Mazatlan in the company of one Leo Moceri and a pair of minor thugs. The group was carefully watched by Mexican authorities. In Mazatlan they met with a local prospector and the whole group headed off into the hills on burros. They returned to the border at Calexico on April 4 with 25 bags of ore. The truck they were driving was registered to the Regal Packing Co. of San Leandro. At the border the group was met by Bompensiero in the Fratianno Trucking Co.’s pickup.
Leo Moceri is not quite as important in the Mafia as La Porte, but Los Angeles police consider him considerably more important than Bompensiero. He is known as “Lips” and was a member of the famed “Detroit Purple Gang.” He is a convicted blackmailer and was present at the famous Apalachin Mafia summit conference. Fratianno would probably also have been there, according to Los Angeles police, but he happened to have been in jail at the time. However, just before the conference he was visited by a man who did attend. Lips Moceri has been in the Valley. He can be expected to return, for he is believed to be the contact with La Porte, the “Mr. Big." The authorities who are keeping their collective eye on the local activities of what they frankly call “organized crime” don't want to talk for the record. It is their tradition not to.
MAFIA FOLLOWS PATTERN
But they all agree that the Mafia follows a pattern when it moves into a new area. It uses a legitimate business cover and soon starts to obtain “control." One of the “controls" the Mafia is seeking is that of all trucking operations from San Francisco south. They have boasted of that. “Control” is also sought in the area of local government. The Mafia has that in Calumet City, for example, and to a large degree in Las Vegas.