Wednesday, June 26, 2013

11 Things I Learned About The Cleveland Mafia From Rick Porrello

Rick Porrello is the author of "The Rise & Fall of the Cleveland Mafia," "To Kill The Irishman" and "Superthief." He's also the chief of the Lyndhurst Police Department and used to play drums for Sammy Davis Jr.

Rick Porrello -- the man who wrote "The Rise & Fall of the Cleveland Mafia," "To Kill The Irishman," and "Superthief" and also oversees -- spoke about the history of the Cleveland mob at the Mentor Public Library on June 25.

He also talked about the 13-year process of turning "Irishman" from a book into a film starring Ray Stevenson, Val Kilmer and Christopher Walken.

Porrello's a great speaker and a class act. He hung around late to sign books and answer questions.

Here are 11 things I learned from him at the library:

1. You don't have to be a mafia buff to have heard of The Commission -- the governing body of the American mafia, formed by the heads of each family.

However, even some mafia experts don't realize the first Commission meeting occurred at the Statler Hotel in Cleveland in 1928. (Most recognize a 1929 meeting in Atlantic City as the first gathering.) But the Cleveland meeting was raided by police, and the failed gathering was viewed as an embarrassment for the Porrello family that hosted it.

2. Yes, that Porrello family.

Rick Porrello's grandfather, Raymond Porrello, and his six brothers were involved in the beginnings of the Cleveland Mafia. They provided corn sugar to bootleggers who were circumventing prohibition.

However, the Porrello family got out of the business after Raymond and three of his brothers were murdered.

Rick Porrello's interest in the local mafia began when he was trying to learn more about how his grandfather and great-uncles died.

3. While the Porrello brothers were in business, their turf was East 110th and upper Woodland. Lower Woodland belonged to the Lonardo brothers.

The two families were cordial until Black Sam Todaro, the Lonardo family's business manager, began working for the Porrellos and instigated the Corn Sugar War.

Eventually what remained of both of these groups would be absorbed by the Mayfield Road Mob, which was led by John Scalish.

4. Danny Greene was the head of the Celtic Club -- or, to put it another way, the Irish Mob in Cleveland.

He drew the ire of the Cleveland Mafia after he killed Shondor Birns, a powerful mobster (who was played by Christopher Walken in the "Irishman" movie.)

Greene was ahead of the times in a lot of his way. Many of his subordinates had business cards -- complete with their pager numbers. (And this was back in 1978!)

5. Greene was never a member of the Italian Mafia. Instead, he had his own thing. However, he did partner with Italian mobster John Nardi.

Both he and Nardi waged a bloody war with the Cleveland mafia where the weapon of choice was car bombs.

Once, the mafia tried to kill Greene by blowing up his house near Waterloo & East 158th. They blew up the house but Greene and his girlfriend somehow survived.

There's now a parking lot where Greene's house used to stand. Behind it, there's a mural that says "KABOOM!" in big emblazoned letters.

6. Rick Porrello's father was not involved in the Mafia. He was a musician and the head of the musician's union.

However, by coincidence, he was in the area when the Mafia blew up Nardi and his car.

Porrello remembers his father coming home that day and telling his mother about it.

7. After several failed attempts, the Cleveland Mafia finally killed Danny Greene while he was visiting his dentist in Lyndhurst in 1977.

By coincidence again, Rick Porrello had been working for the Lyndhurst Police Department for about three years when he started researching mafia history. Now, he's their chief.

8. Both the Mafia and the Celtic Club used a lot of car bombs during their war.

But even Porrello admits that the sheer amount of car bombs may have been exaggerated in the movie "Kill The Irishman."

Porrello's words: "I am blessed that the film got made. And no film gets made exactly like the book; but if I were to criticize one thing, it's that there were too many explosions. They made it look like there was a bombing everyday."

9. Porrello is working on a new book about Shondor Birns. He says progress is "coming along slowly, but well."

10. Rick Porrello said libraries were invaluable to his research. Without their archives of newspapers and microfilm, he could have never written his books.

"The libraries in the Cleveland area were where this all started for me," he said.

11. One final coincidence: Rick Porrello has the same dentist as Danny Greene.

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