Skip to comments.The Mafia Plot To Kill Dennis Kucinich
Posted on 07/05/2007 6:49:22 PM PDT by GOP_Lady
The Mafia Plot To Kill Dennis Kucinich
A Former Cleveland Police Chief Finally Tells The Whole Story
By James Renner
The meeting went down at Burke Lakefront Airport in 1978. A small prop-engine plane owned by the Maryland State Police was parked on the tarmac. Inside was a sergeant from Maryland and "The Old Man," a professional hitman-turned-rat who was working with Maryland police in sting operations. Cleveland Police detective Ed Kovacic climbed into the plane and sat next to The Old Man.
Kovacic showed him a photo spread of suspects. The Old Man pointed to number four, Thomas Sinito. "This is Tommy," he said.
"Is that the man who hired you to hit Dennis Kucinich?" the Maryland officer asked.
"How much was he going to pay you?"
Kovacic knew Tommy Sinito well. The man was a rising star in the Cleveland faction of La Cosa Nostra, and was already connected to the attempted murder of local housing official Robert Doggett, though there hadn't been enough evidence to charge him in that case. Surely only Sinito was brazen enough to hire a professional hitman to take out Cleveland's mayor.
"Let's get out of here, right now," The Old Man said to the Maryland cop. His skin had gone pale. And for good reason. The Old Man recognized the other mugs Kovacic had placed in the photo spread. They were the highest-ranking members of the Cleveland mafia. And if they were involved in a plot to kill a big-city mayor, why would they hesitate to kill a dirty snitch like him?
PROHIBITION BROUGHT THE MOB to Cleveland. North Coast bootleggers needed corn sugar to brew their black-market booze. And two large families, the Lonardos and the Porrellos, ran the corn- sugar trade in town. The two clans warred with each other for a bigger share of the honey pot, and after the murder of two Lonardo bosses, the Porrellos established control of Cleveland's crime syndicate.
But it was a made man by the name of John Scalish who organized the local underworld into one tight empire. He took over in 1944 and ruled as Don for 32 years, running profitable numbers rackets, using front companies to secure lucrative city contracts, and forming alliances with New York's Genovese crime family and mobsters in Chicago. Unfortunately, Scalish didn't name a successor before undergoing heart surgery in 1976. When he died on the operating table, leadership of Cleveland's mafia was up for grabs and it seemed every capo wanted to make a play.
"Everyone thought it should be "Big Ange' Lonardo," says Rick Porrello, whose grandfather was murdered during the Prohibition sugar wars. Instead, Jack Licavoli, known on the street as "Jack White," assumed control. "But there were other people interested in taking over."
An Irish union racketeer named Danny Greene tried to wrestle control of organized crime in Cleveland from Licavoli, with the help of mob henchman John Nardi. Licavoli, however, was in no hurry to leave. A car bomb killed Nardi outside the Teamster Hall on May 17, 1977. Another one snuffed out Greene in October that year; his left arm was found 100 feet from the rest of his body.
With Nardi and Greene out of the way, the only real threat to the mob was the Boy Mayor, Dennis Kucinich.
As the Cleveland mafia waged its civil war after the death of boss Scalish, newly elected Mayor Kucinich fought hard to sever its old ties to local government. In 1977, Kucinich mandated that all city contracts be re-evaluated. The most coveted deal was the garbage-hauling contract once held by Danny Greene, before an associate of his named James Palladino took it over. Palladino made no secret of his contempt for Kucinich after the mayor awarded the contract to another businessman not directly connected to such nefarious characters.
Tony's Diner - The Old Man wanted to whack Kucinich here. That same year, Kucinich refused to sell Muni Light, Cleveland's public power plant, to private interests that stood to make a bundle of money. Every fat cat, every racketeer, every low-level thug with his hand in the gravy wanted Kucinich out of the picture.
And someone wanted him dead.
IT WAS 1978 and Ed Kovacic was the sergeant in charge of the Cleveland Police Department's Scientific Investigation Unit when he got the phone call from the undercover cop from Maryland. The officer told him a story about a professional hitman from his area they called The Old Man, who had gotten high at a bar one evening and blabbed about a sweet assignment he once had in Ohio.
"The Old Man said he'd picked up a contract on the mayor of Cleveland," recalls Kovacic. "He was supposed to take him out at a parade. He told the Maryland police that his Cleveland contact was someone he knew only as "Tommy.'"
It was the Columbus Day parade, organized by the Call & Post, to be exact. But the hit didn't happen because an ulcer inside Kunicich's stomach burst before the event and the mayor was rushed to the hospital.
The hit location then changed to Tony's Diner on West 117th. Kucinich had breakfast at the greasy spoon every morning at a table near a window. The Old Man picked up an untraceable rifle and scope and tried to secure a location across the street from the window. The angle wasn't right, though. Instead, he picked a rooftop across the street from the entrance. He could shoot Kucinich in the head as he left.
"After killing Kucinich, he would leave his gun on the roof, walk down the fire escape and climb into a second-floor window," says Kovacic. "He would leave the building with everyone when they rushed outside to see what the commotion was. Then he would just walk away."
But when Cleveland Trust called in long-standing debts in retaliation for Kucinich's refusal not to sell Muni Light, the city went into default and Kucinich's popularity plummeted. It was obvious he would not be re-elected and the mafia was inclined to wait and see if his successor was more reasonable. The hit was called off. Still, Cleveland police wanted to know who had given the order.
The acting chief told Kovacic to meet with the hitman at Burke Lakefront Airport and try to get The Old Man to identify his contact. There, The Old Man picked out Tommy Sinito's photograph.
"I knew him as a player, but not a big player," says Kovacic. "I knew Sinito was an associate of the Cleveland mafia, but I didn't know if he was a made man. I remembered that Sinito's name had come up as a bit player in the attempted assassination of Robert Doggett."
In August 1973, Robert Doggett was the director of the Model City program, a federally funded initiative to rebuild Cleveland's East Side. Of course, the mob wanted its front companies to receive the biggest contracts, but apparently, Doggett had other ideas. While walking to his office on St. Clair, Doggett was shot in the belly and nearly died. His would-be assassin was found a few days later, floating facedown in the Ohio River. The shooter's name was Gerald "Chick" Johnson. According to Kovacic, who investigated the crime, Johnson's car was leased from a dealership where Tommy Sinito worked.
"That was the first time his name came up," says Kovacic. "He had apparently moved up in status since then."
Years later, singing like a canary in front of the US Senate, "Big Ange" Lonardo testified that Sinito was running a major dope business for the mob in the late '70s. The profit floated up to Licavoli, with Sinito taking a skim. At that time, Sinito was known for organizing hits on anyone who crossed him - other drug dealers stepping on his turf, but friends, too. When he suspected his loan-shark debt collector, David Perrier, was talking to the feds, he took Perrier on a little ride.
"I had been seeing Sinito on a daily basis, and after Perrier was killed, I did not see Sinito for several days," Lonardo said to the Committee on Governmental Affairs in 1988. "Later, Sinito told me that he had killed Perrier. I was upset with Sinito, as he had not obtained my permission to kill Perrier. Sinito explained that an opportunity to kill Perrier arose and that he did not want to pass it up. He and [another mobster] picked Perrier up and drove to an area near Warren, Ohio. They shot Perrier four to five times in the head, and he still struggled with them. Perrier told Sinito, "You son of a bitch. I thought we were brothers.' Perrier lived for a short while, then died. They then dumped the body from the car. Sinito had to dispose of the car, as it was soaked with blood. I believe that he burned the car."
Sinito was smart. He always covered his tracks. When someone needed a bit of killing, Sinito was the man you talked to.
Tommy SINITO - Dial "Him" for Murder. THE OLD MAN'S ID was good, but it wasn't enough to go after Sinito for attempted murder. And they still didn't know who had asked Sinito to arrange the hit in the first place. So Kovacic and the Maryland State Police worked with The Old Man to set up a tape-recorded meeting with Sinito in Cleveland in hopes that Sinito would spill the beans.
"The meeting was supposed to happen at the Port-O-Call restaurant on Brook Park, near the airport, between the undercover sergeant, The Old Man, and Tommy," says Kovacic. "The undercover sergeant was wearing the microphone. I was listening from outside with a group of Cleveland police and six guys from Maryland, waiting to move in. At some point, our man went to the restroom to talk to us over the mike. He said, "Our guy is here, our guy is here. We're looking at him.'"
But as the sergeant walked back to the table where The Old Man was sitting, he watched his informant make a chopping motion in the air with his hand. From across the room, he saw Sinito nod his head and quickly leave.
"Something spooked The Old Man and he called it off," says Kovacic. "Something scared the hell out of him. All he said [later] was that there was something about one of our people. He recognized one of our men and knew they were working for the other side. But was it someone from Baltimore or someone from Cleveland? To this day, we don't know."
Later, at the hotel where the Maryland State Police were staying, Kovacic asked the undercover sergeant if The Old Man had ever told him who wanted Kucinich killed or why. "He said it had something to do with the electric company," says Kovacic.
The plot to kill Kucinich was not made public until 1984. Even Kucinich had been kept in the dark. In the past, Kucinich has implied he believes it was divine intervention that kept him from the parade that day. Free Times tried repeatedly to speak with Kucinich for this article, but he never called.
Though Kovacic was a key player in the investigation, he didn't speak publicly about the incident until after he retired from his post as chief of police in 1994. And even then, he was careful not to give too much away.
"I never told all the story until now," he says.
CITY PROSECUTORS announced the death of the Cleveland mob after Big Ange and his men were pinched in a massive drug-ring bust in 1984. Sinito suffered a heart attack while jogging and died in the prison yard at Belmont in 1997. His son, Frank, distances himself from his father's past, choosing not to talk to reporters. He owns a construction company and the popular Valley View hangout Lockkeeper's Inn.
Danny Greene's reputed protégé, Jim Palladino, got his garbage contract back after George Voinovich became mayor of Cleveland in 1979. Jimmy Dimora handed him Bedford's rubbish contract as well. Palladino contributed heavily to Voinovich's campaigns for mayor and, later, Senator. He currently owns the Kelley's Island limestone quarry and lives on the island with his family. He did not return calls seeking comment.
Though many believe the Cleveland mafia is no more, rumors of a re-emergence are rampant on the Internet. The Web site Clevelandmob.com suggests that the Cleveland mafia was slowly rebuilt by Chicago's La Cosa Nostra in the '90s, and that as many as 10 made men currently operate out of our city, generating up to $30 million in illicit profit annually.
Rick Porrello, whose family's corn-sugar business seeded the mob, works for the good guys these days. He's a patrol lieutenant for the Lyndhurst Police Department and has written several books on the history of the Cleveland mafia, including To Kill The Irishman, the story of Danny Greene, which has been optioned by a Hollywood production company.
"There's always going to be organized crime," says Porrello. "In Cleveland, they're still there, always looking to make a buck. Today, it's gambling. Any kind of gambling. Legal gambling, sports-book making, gambling machines, skill games. And there's always new shit coming up. Identity fraud, the Internet. It's not only an organization, it's a way of life. It's an exclusive club for these guys, it's a subculture, and the younger guys are always moving up."
But like their predecessors who tried to kill Kucinich, most will end up in prison, or clipped by some other capo. As Journey said in 1981, "Some will win, some will lose. Some were born to sing the blues.
hehehe....if only. :)
Ther was a period then of so many bombings going on, Cleveland was known as "Bomb City" or something like that.....
Its working. Suddenly I’d like to have them back in power....
(as if they every left).
Danny Greene often was in the drugstore that I worked as a teenager. Very polite man but his all green wardrobe made him easy to pick out in a crowd.
Anyway when Danny would come in and use our payphones we almost always had a visit from an Ohio Bell repairman. Turns out the repairmen were FBI.
Last time I saw him was when he limped in to the drugstore after a bomb had leveled his two story IrishAmerican club and he crawled out with his high school girlfriend with nary a scratch.
Rub out Dennis Kucinich? Godfather, what have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?
“Kucinich is a pimp. What I didn’t know until this day is that it was Pelosi all along.”
And the hot babe could have married Vinnie “The Nose” Bizoni.
Compared to Kookcinich, Trafficant is a brain surgeon.
Beam me up!
I lived in Cleveland for one year longer than you, and none of this surprises me.
That's the most depressing part of the article. The "wisdom" of Journey being taken seriously.
I guess it could be worse -- the Sopranos could have ended with something by Foreigner.
And then the story would have ended: As Foreigner said in 1981 (or whenever) "If that don't teach you a lesson. Might show you his Smith & Wesson."
I have my doubts. It would explain why he'd be so hard to kill, wouldn't it? The significant thing about Pod People is that they have their hearts on the other side of their body, and, well...there, I've said too much...
They didn’t call him Dennis the Menace for nuthin’
I thought Peewee was Kucinich's stage name.
And its brought the bloods and the crips to your neighborhood, and bringing MS-13 into this country.
The river caught fire when Ralph Perk was mayor.
If a tree falls in the woods? er.
So, did the Kucinich campaign leak this story?