Joe Bruno on the Mob – Johnny Dio – A Gangster’s Gangster

                If there was a way to make an illegal buck, Johnny” Dio” Dioguardi, called by Bobby Kennedy the “master labor racketeer,”  had his sticky fingers in the pot. Dio was such a treacherous thug at a young age, in 1936, U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Dewey claimed Dio was, “A young gorilla who began his career at the age of 15.”

            Johnny Dio was born Giovanni (John) Ignazio Dioguardi on April 28, 1914, on Forsyth Street in downtown Manhattan. Dio had three brothers: Frank and Vincent, who were legitimate guys, and Tommaso, or Thomas, who became, as did Johnny Dio , a capo in the Luchesse crime family. Dio also had an unnamed sister who can be identified only as “Mrs. Dioguardi-Priziola.”

 Dio’s father Giovanni B. Dioguardi, who owned a bicycle shop, was murdered in August 1930 on a street in Coney Island, in what police called a “mob-related execution.” It seemed that the elder Dioguardi and another enterprising gentleman had robbed a rich lady of her jewelry, and the two men had were arguing over how to split the proceeds. The elder Dioguardi, who had been arrested twice for murder but never convicted, took six shots to various parts of his body, and it is presumed the other gentleman kept all the jewelry.

Johnny Dio graduated grammar school, but after less than two years at Stuyvesant High School, Dio dropped out and went to work for his uncle on his mother side: gangster James “Jimmy Doyle” Plumeri. By this time, the handsome Dio (who was said to have looked like silent movie star Rudolph Valentino) had already gotten a reputation on the Lower East Side as a tough youth, who terrorized street vendors into giving him a good portion of their wares for free. Uncle Jimmy Doyle (nobody called him by his real name Plumeri), recognizing Dio’s talents for thuggery, immediately put Dio to work as a schlammer (leg-breaker) in the Garment Center for Doyle’s Jewish associates Louie “Lepke” Buchalter and Lepke’s partner Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro, who were affectionately known as “The Gorilla Boys.” Lepke, along with Albert “The Lord High Executioner” Anastasia, was the head of Murder Incorporated, a group of stone killers who murdered whomever the mob bosses in New York City and around the country said needed to be murdered. However, there is no proof that Dio ever joined that august group. Dio’s specialty was union-related extortion, and in that, he was tops in his field.

Dio and Doyle started a garment workers trucking association, whereby the truckers working in the Garment Center were forced to join the trucker’s union, headed, of course, by Dio and Doyle. If a poor sap trucker decided he didn’t want to join the  union, a trip to the hospital was inevitable, if not a trip to the morgue. The union dues was hefty, but at whatever price they were forced to pay, it was a small price indeed to ensure the  trucker’s continued good health. Of course, the “union dues” never made it into the union’s coffers (it went straight into Dio’s and Doyle’s pockets instead), and phony books were established to satisfy whomever decided to enquire about the trucker’s union’s financial solvency.

Members of the trucker’s union were even told where to spend their money and how much to spend on specific items. Dio and Doyle were pals with a local barber, and they ordered their truckers to patronized this special barber to the nifty tune of $2.50 a month. The truckers were also told where to buy their wine, where to buy their meats, and where to buy their clothing, and how much to spend on each item, which was certainly not at bargain prices.

For several years in the 1930s, Dio and Doyle, with nobody to stop them, had a sweet deal going for themselves in the Garment Center. Besides extorting the truckers, the dynamic duo of Dio and Doyle profited from the other end of the totem pole too. They forced the Garment Center’s clothing manufacturers (bosses) to employ only union truckers. Then they used the clout of their trucker’s union to bulldoze the clothing manufacturers into paying hefty off-the-books fees in order to keep their business up-and-running, and profitable.

If the clothing manufacturers refused to pay the extortion fees, Dio and Doyle would order their union truckers to go on strike, putting a dead stop to the clothing manufacturer’s cash flow. On occasions, if the bosses didn’t play ball, union thugs (schlammers) would break the bosses’ fingers, their arms and legs; and sometimes all three body parts on the same visit.  In extreme cases, like if a boss threatened to talk to the Feds, Lepke’s Murder Incorporated boys would enter the scene, and seconds later, the chatty boss would exit the face of the earth, toes up.

In 1932 and 1933, Dio and Plumeri were indicted twice for extortion, but they beat the rap both times, because their victims refused to talk to the Feds. In 1934, Dio was lucky enough to be elected executive secretary of the Allied Truckmen’s Mutual Association, an association of employers. Even though Dio was boss of the trucker’s union, he represented their employers during a strike by 1,150 Teamsters in September 1934.

            Nice work if you can get it.

However, in 1937, both Dio and Doyle ran out of luck. The nephew and uncle duo were indicted for extortion and “atrocious assault.” During the trial it was alleged that Dio and Doyle, and several other of their gangster underlings, had been extorting as much as $500 from each trucker. Plus, it was alleged they had forced the clothing manufacturers to add a hefty “tariff” to every suit, coat, and pair of pants manufactured in the Garment Center. This tariff went straight in the pockets of Dio and Doyle, and that increased the cost of good for the general public.

Sweet deal indeed.

According to an article in the New York Daily Mirror, “At the trial, frightened witnesses testified how recalcitrant employers and employees were beaten when they refused to pay. One man said he was confined to bed for two weeks after an assault. Another said the hoodlums had threatened to cut off his ears.”

Realizing they were dead in the water, during the middle of the trial, both Dio and Doyle pled guilty as charged. In return they received free room and board in upstate Sing Sing Prison for a period of three-five years.

After he was released from prison, Dio decided New York City was too hot for him, so he moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he took up roots long enough to open his own dress manufacturing plant; non-union, of course. He later sold the plant, and to guarantee the new owners would have no trouble, Dio took $11,200 under the table to ensure that his erstwhile plant would remain non-union.

Dio sped back to New York City, and using the same tactics he had employed in Allentown, he  set up a dress wholesaler. Using his profits from the business, Dio was smart enough to buy legitimate businesses, which included real estate and trucking. He also dabbled in the stock market, making him seem to the IRS as just another tax-paying citizen. But the New York City police knew better. They just couldn’t pin anything illegal on Dio, although they continued trying.

Back in his old Forsyth Street neighborhood, Dio decided to start a family. He married the former Anne Chrostek (a non-Italian). She bore Dio two sons (Philip and Dominick) and one daughter (Rosemary) who sadly passed away from an unknown illness. It was during this time that Dio, before the age of forty, was officially inducted into the Luchesse Crime Family, making him all the more untouchable on the streets of New York City. Even though they were only Italian on their father’s side, both of Dio’s sons eventually followed in their father’s footsteps into a life of crime. Philip Dio, who was called “Fat Philly,” was later inducted into the Colombo Crime Family, while Dominick, like his father, became a made man in the Luchesse Crime Family.

(Editor’s note: The Mafia rules changed around this time to allow more members to be inducted into the “Honored Society,” to fill the gaps of those who either were killed or sent to the can;  “college” as the mob likes to call it. At this point, only your father (not both parents) had to be Italian for you to get “your button.” If your mother was Italian and your father a non-Italian — you were spit out of luck. Them’s the breaks.)

By the 1950’s, Dio had become a powerful captain (capo) in the Luchesse Crime Family, and with money pouring into his coffers in bundles (he allegedly earned $100,000 a week), he started living the life of a colonial baron. In the early 1960s, Dio moved his family into a spacious estate out on Freeport, Long Island, which cost Dio $75,000 in cash (Dio didn’t like banks or bank loans). During the week, Dio ate with his cronies in the best New York City eateries (his favorite being the trendy Black Angus Steakhouse). But, as is the Italian custom, Sundays were strictly for the family (famiglia). Inviting family member and close friends, Dio was proud of the fact he was an expert cook and was personally able to conjure up the best Italian delicacies to delight his guests. Dio was especially gracious to his wife, whom he loved dearly (unlike most mob men, Dio was faithful to his wife). Instead of personally buying his wife Christmas presents, Dio would give her a shoe box stuffed with cash, with a little note saying, “Buy yourself some nice clothes, honey.”

During the 1950’s, through his connections with New York City Teamster leaders Martin Lacey and John O’Rourke,  Dio became tight pals with Teamster big-wig Jimmy Hoffa. Dio and Hoffa  first met in a secret meeting in a New York City hotel room, and Hoffa, who had hoped to unseat Teamster President Dave Beck, figured  Dio, with his union background, would be the perfect person to become chums with. In late 1955, Dio was able to obtain charters from the Teamsters to set up seven Teamster locals, called “paper locals,” because they did not have actual teamsters as members. The roles were filled with Dio’s relatives and pals, and their vote for teamster president was in Hoffa’s back pocket.

Dio’s modus operandi for more than 30 years was this: control the unions, then use the unions as a sledgehammer over the heads of the bosses. Dio would tell the bosses, “Pay or my boys will strike.”  The bosses always paid, the workers always got screwed, and Dio made out like a bandit every time.

During his illustrious criminal career, Dio controlled the unions to the detriment of its members to such an extent, that during the 1950’s McClellan Committee hearings into organized crime, the committee issued the statement, “It cannot be said, using the widest possible latitude, that Johnny Dioguardi was ever interested in bettering the lot of the workingman.”

Famous Mafia turncoat Joe Valachi owned a dress factory on Prospect Avenue in the Bronx for 12 years. Valachi once said, “I never belonged to any union. If I got into any trouble, any union organizer came around, all I had to do was call Johnny Dio and all my troubles were straightened out.”

However, in 1956, as the Teamsters elections neared and they were scheming for control, both Hoffa and Dio had a stone in their shoe, and his name was syndicated newspaper columnist Victor Riesel.

Victor Riesel was born on March 16, 1913 on the Lower East Side to Jewish parents in a mixed Italian/Jewish neighborhood, not far from where Dio grew up.  Victor’s father, Nathan Riesel, was very proactive in union activities and was instrumental in creating the Bonnaz, Singer, and the Hard Embroiderers Unions. In 1913, he also helped organized Local 66 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, and soon he was elected secretary-treasurer of that union, then finally president.

When Victor Riesel was a young child, his father taught him how to make union speeches, which the young Victor fiercely gave at union meetings and at outdoor union rallies. Nathan Riesel was hard-line anti-communist, and he was strident in preventing the communists from infiltrating his locals. Victor saw his father return  home many times, beaten and bloodied from fights he had with communists activists, or the mobsters (schlammers) who were hired by the factory owners to break up union strikes that Nathan Riesel had participated in. This formed the notion in Victor Riesel’s young mind that gangsters were the bane of legitimate unions.

In 1926, Nathan Riesel moved his family to the Bronx, where Victor attended and graduated with honors from Morris High School. While in high school, Riesel began working as an “stringer” for several newspapers throughout America. His writings were mostly about the labor movement in the United States, and how they were hampered by a “gangster element,” who sought to play both ends of the spectrum by infiltrating the unions, then working for the boss manufacturers to physically quell any union strikes or demonstrations. In 1928, Riesel enrolled in night classes in the City College of New York City (CCNY), where he took courses in human resource management and industrial relations. To support himself while attending night school, Riesel worked at strenuous jobs, both in a steel mill and in a saw mill. While in college, Riesel also worked as a columnist, then as an editor on the student newspaper. Besides writing columns on the labor movement, Riesel also wrote columns on varied subjects like literature, and the theater.

While in college, to get needed experience in the outside newspaper world, Riesel took a job as a general office boy at The New Leader, a political and cultural weekly magazine that was both liberal and anti-communist. Riesel cuts his teeth in the business by doing anything his bosses at the newspaper told him to do, including sweeping the floors, and writing columns for the newspaper. In 1940, after 12 long years of hard work, both in and out of school, Riesel finally earned his Bachelor of Business Administration from CCNY. He was offered the job as the managing editor at The New Leader, and he took the job with the determination of ridding the unions of “gangsterism.”

Riesel caught his first big break, when in 1941, he was hired as a columnist for The New York Post. In the 1948, when the Post changed management, Riesel switched to the New York Daily Mirror, owned by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hurst. By 1956, Riesel’s column was syndicated in 193 newspapers throughout the United States. In that same year, Riesel began working in conjunction with United States Attorney Paul Williams, with the expressed purpose of taking on the gangsters who ran the New York City garment and trucking unions.

This was a double whammy for Johnny Dio, who was heavily involved in both unions, and for Jimmy Hoffa, who was trying to unseat Dave Beck as head of the Teamsters.

On April 5, 1956, Riesel was asked to be a guest host on Barry Gray’s WMCA overnight radio talk show. Riesel had recently been on a rant in his columns concerning the International Union of Operating Engineers and its President William DeKoning Jr., who Riesel claimed was conspiring with known labor gangster Joseph Fay to reinstall DeKoning’s father William DeKoning Sr. as the president of the union. DeKoning Sr. had just exited the can after being imprisoned for extortion, and Riesel felt that having the senior DeKoning back as president of the union would be a downright disaster.

As a result of his columns on both DeKonings and Fay, Riesel received numerous death threats. However, Riesel shrugged them off, knowing only a fool would hurt an esteemed member of the press. Doing so would certainly result in the law coming down hard on all union racketeers, and their rackets.

On this particular radio show, Riesel invited two members of the International Union of Operating Engineers, who were challenging the DeKonings for control of the union. This did not sit too well with Johnny Dio, or with Jimmy Hoffa, who both figured Riesel would go gunning for them next.

Gray’s show originated  at Hutton’s Restaurant on Lexington Avenue and 47th Street. After the show, which ended at 2 a.m., Riesel and his secretary moseyed over to Lindy’s restaurant, on Broadway between 49th and 50th Street, to grab a bite to eat and drown the food down with hot steaming coffee. (Ironically, this was the same Lindy’s Restaurant in front of which small-time gambler Herman Rosenthal was shot to death in 1912.)

At approximately 3 a.m., Riesel and his secretary emerged from Lindy’s and started walking toward the secretary’s parked car on 51st Street. Riesel wore his eyeglasses to work, but when he was out in public, for appearances sake, he normally removed his eyeglasses. Just as Riesel and his secretary neared the secretary’s car, Riesel took off his eyeglasses, put them in an eyeglass case, and inserted the case into the breast pocket of his overcoat. Suddenly, a tall, thin man, wearing a blue and white jacket, sprung from the shadows of the Mark Hellinger Theater and flung a vial contain sulfuric acid into Riesel’s eyes, rendering Riesel blind for the rest of his life. Then the assailant calmly walked away and disappeared into the night. Thereafter, Riesel wore sunglasses to shield the public from the sight of his severely disfigured eyes.

The day after the attack, the Daily Mirror offered a $10,000 reward for information that led to the capture and conviction of Riesel’s assailant. The Newspaper Guild of America, the New York Press Photographers, the New York Reporters Association, and the Overseas Press Club chipped in with another five grand. In less than a week, donations from assorted groups, including the labor unions and radio station WMCA, had raised the reward total to $41,000.

With tips coming in in droves, some reliable, some not so reliable, in August of 1956, the FBI ascertained that Riesel’s assailant had been small-time hood Abraham Telvi. The only problem was, Telvi was now deceased; apparently murdered on July 28 because he had demanded another $50,000 on top of the paltry $500 he had already been paid for throwing the acid in Riesel’s face.

On August 29, Dio was arrested for conspiracy in the Riesel attack. Dio pled not guilty and was released on $100,000 bond.

On October 22, Dio’s pal Joseph Carlino pled guilty to hiring Telvi to attack Riesel. Carlino implicated two other men, Gandolfo Maranti and Dominick Bando, as accomplices in hiring Telvi.  Carlino also said that Dio had ultimately given the order for the attack. Dio lawyered up with a top New York City mob attorney, and his attorney was able to get Dio’s trial severed from the trial of Maranti and Bando.

At their trial, both Maranti and Bando verified Carlino’s assertion that Dio had engineered the attack against Riesel. Maranti and Bando were both found guilty of conspiracy. But their sentencing was delayed until after the Dio trial.

Dio’s attorney was able to delay his trial for almost six months, and during this time Maranti and Bando began to have bouts of memory loss. When Dio’s trial finally commenced, both Maranti and Bando recanted their testimony, and with no corroboration of Carlino’s claim that Dio ordered the Riesel attack, all charges against Dio were dropped. Maranti was given 8-16 years in prison, and Bando 2-5 years in prison, and another 5 years for contempt of court. Amazingly,  Carlino received a suspended sentence for aiding the law  in the convictions of Maranti and Bando. However, no matter how the situation was cleared or not cleared up in court, Dio has forever been remembered as the man who “blinded Victor Riesel.”

In October of 1956, Dio was indicted, along with several Teamster officials, on extortion and conspiracy charges. The indictment said that Dio had extorted money from New York City Garment Center truck drivers, and had also extorted money from Garment Center manufacturing bosses not to have the same truck drivers go out on strike. Also included in the indictment was the alleged extortion of New York City stationery store owners, whose stores Dio’s men had picketed. The store owners were allegedly told that if they wanted the picketing stopped, they would have to force their employees to join Teamster Local 295, and hire Johnny Dio’s “labor consulting” firm, Equitable (not) Research Associates, for a $3,500 retainer, and $200 a month salary.

Because Dio’s attorneys were so adept at stalling tactics, and the fact that key government witnesses had recanting their testimony, Dio’s trial did not take place until November of 1957.

The trial took four weeks, but when it ended, Dio was convicted as charged and sentenced to two years in prison. While in prison, Dio was indicted again on extortion charges. This time, instead of the victims being stationery store owners, they were the owners of electroplating shops. In 1958, Dio was convicted again, and this time the judge threw the book at Dio, sentencing him to 15-30 years. Dio began serving his time in Sing Sing Prison, while appealing his sentence. On June 23, 1959, an appeals court inexplicable overturned the decision in Dio’s trial, saying that since Dio didn’t issue the threats personally, he should not have been convicted of extortion. A split court ruled, “Extortion cannot be committed by one who does not himself induce fear, but who receives money for the purpose of removing or allaying pre-existing fear instilled by others.”

Jonathan Kwitney said in his book Vicious Circles, “The decision seemed to legitimize the whole purpose of the Mafia.”

However, the law was not finished with Johnny Dio. On June 24, 1959,  one hour after he finished his two-year bit on the first extortion charge, Dio was pinched by the Feds and charged with income tax evasion; for non-payment of taxes for three dress manufacturing companies he owned (non-union, of course), and two labor union locals. Dio went on trial in March of 1960. He was found guilty and was sentenced to four years at the federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia. Dio was released in March of 1963, partially on the basis that he had obtained a real job in a legitimate industry. Dio claimed he was now a salesman for Consumers Kosher Provision Company, another sham job that provided Dio the opportunity to do what he had done in several other industries before. This time it was the kosher meat business that would pay the piper for Dio’s Machiavellian machinations.

At first, the scam worked like a charm. Dio and a bunch a his mobster buddies separately approached two rival kosher meat companies and convinced both of them that their business would be ruined if they did not hire their group of thugs to fight back against the other company’s group of thugs. The two competing companies were the Consumers Kosher Provision Company, run by a dupe named Herman Rose, and the American Kosher Provision Inc., who had employed mobster Max Block (he had just been forced to resign as head of the butcher’s union) to make sure other mobsters didn’t try to shake down American Kosher. Block’s muscle was provided by Genovese thug Lorenzo “Chappy” Brescia, who had been extorting the butcher’s union for years. According to Vicious Circles, Block was receiving an annual salary of $50,000 a year from American Kosher, and Brescia’s cut was $25,000 a year.

This is where Dio began working his magic in the kosher meat business. Through two intermediaries, Dio approached Herman Rose and convinced Rose that in order to compete with American Kosher, it was imperative Rose hire Johnny Dio to protect his interests. Rose figured this was the right thing to do and he hired Dio at the salary of $250 a week; not an exorbitant amount of money. But it gave Dio the appearance of an honest job, and it gave the Mafia the opportunity to control the prices in the two top kosher meat companies in the area. (This is why, overnight the price of kosher meats skyrocketed.)

After Herman Rose died in 1964, Dio convinced the Kleinberg family, which owned the majority of stock in Consumer Kosher that it was good business to merge with American Kosher. The Kleinbergs, trembling in their boots, agreed with Dio’s assessment, and with the mob running both companies, the “bust-out business” in the kosher meat industry began in full throttle. 

Soon, Dio and his pals, using their usual tactics, began scooping up, and creating from scratch, other small kosher meat companies. Stock was transferred back and forth between the companies, and so were the assets, which included the kosher meat itself. First, Consumer Kosher went bankrupt; then did American Kosher. The other Dio-controlled companies started acquiring the meats (that had not been paid for), and one by one, they too declared bankruptcy, only to be acquired by another sham company owned by, what the newspapers called, “The Kosher Nostra.” The suppliers of the meat out west, because of the multiple bankruptcy proceeding, were stiffed of their meat payments. According to New York Post reporter Marvin Smilon, one of these meat providers had the temerity to ask one of Dio’s meat cronies, “Why do we have to deal with Dio?” He was told, “Sit down and be quiet. You ask too many questions.”

But all good things must come to an end. In 1966, Dio, along with four of his associates, were indicted for “bankruptcy fraud.” In 1967, they were all found guilty, and Dio was sentenced to five years in prison. However, with his high-powered attorneys working their magic, Dio was able to stay out of prison for almost four years. This gave Dio the extra time he needed to work another scam, called “The Great Mafia Bagel War.”

It started with Ben Willner, who had a machine that could make automated bagels, for around 50 cents a bagel, whereas a hand-rolled bagel cost about 65 cents to produce. This was not good news for the Bakery and Confectioners Workers Union, because it put their member’s jobs at risk. Willner was great pals with Moe Steinman, who didn’t care too much how the bagels were being made, because he had a stranglehold on bagel distribution, not bagel production. Willner ran to Steinman, and Steinman, hoping to help his pal out, introduced Willner to Johnny Dio, whom Steinman knew was an expert at “labor-related problems.” Dio helped out Willner, for a piece of the pie of course, and soon Steinman was packing his supermarkets with anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000 worth of Willner’s bagels a week.

The only problem was that Genovese Crime Family capo Thomas “Tommy Ryan” Eboli had his own bagel maker, who was being short-changed because of the Willner/Dio/automated bagel-making machine trio. This man was named Arthur Goldberg and he ran to Eboli, screaming. Eboli demanded a sit-down with Dio, who had been with the Luchesse Family for more than 30 years. At the time, in the New York City Mafia pecking order, the Genovese Family was much more powerful than the Luchesse Family, and Dio was effectively pushed out of the bagel business for good. Dio broke the bad news to Willner, and as a result, in December of 1969, Willner was forced to close shop. This led to the Eboli/Goldberg crew taking over Willner’s business, and his automated bagel-making machines.

Dio felt bad about losing his bagel scheme, but he felt even worse, when in November of 1970, he ran out of appeals and was forced to go to prison for a five-year stretch at the federal prison at Lewisburg, P.A. on the bankruptcy fraud charges. (He did not Pass Go, and he did not collect the customary two hundred dollars.)

In 1972, while still in prison, Dio was indicted again, this time for stock fraud, concerning the At Your Service Leasing Corp., a luxury car leasing firm that did most of its business with organized crime figures. It was alleged that in 1969, before Dio went to prison, Dio, along with Carmine Tramunti, Vincent Aloi, and Michael Hellerman, “floated” $300,000 of false stock in the car leasing company. Dio’s group then either bribed, or forced security dealers to sell the stock, and then turn over the money to the Dio investment group. The jury found Dio guilty, and he was hit when a knockout blow when he was sentenced to nine and ten-year prison terms, to run consecutively. Dio appealed his convictions twice, but he lost both appeals.

Johnny “Dio” Dioguardi never was a free man again. Dio died on January 12, 1979, in a Pennsylvania hospital, where he had been transferred to from federal prison. To add insult to injury, Dio was scheduled for parole in just a few short months.

The news of Johnny Dio’s death did not receive an inch of space in any of the New York City daily newspapers, even though a paid death notice appeared a few days after his death in the New York Daily News.

It was as if Johnny Dio, a gangster’s gangster if there ever was one, had never existed.


39 Responses to “Joe Bruno on the Mob – Johnny Dio – A Gangster’s Gangster”

  1. MightyDR Says:

    Always wanted to know more about Johnny Dio. Much thanks for this fantastic article.

    • My Aunt Francis (my father’s younger sister) married into Dio’s family in the 1940’s. Married his cousin Tommy Contino – my Uncle Tommy, who was a great man. This article will be in my future book – “Mobsters, Gangs, Crooks, and Other Creeps – Volume 4.”

      Volumes 1-3 are already published and all three are doing very well. I’m now working on “Mobsters, Gangs, Crooks, and Other Creeps – Girlfriends and Wives.”

  2. Frank "Baker" Bagot Says:

    I wrote a story of my first meeting with “John” and unfortunately I erased it by mistake. If you are interested in a few stories about Jon, his Uncle Jimmy, his brother Tommy and Leo Telvi. contact mr

    • Frank, Johnny Dio’s cousin Tommy Contino was my uncle through marriage.

      • Frank "Baker" Bagot Says:

        I didn’t know Tommy Contino. I knew Johnny when he owned JARD products, Tommy when he owned a piece goods business on 38th st (Forgot the name) and Jimmy when he had an office in Augie Weiss’s hotel and spent afternoons in the Mannequin Cocktail Lounge and restaurant. I was sitting with Jimmy in the Mannequin the night that he left to keep an appointment in Queens and may have been the last one in the Garment Center to talk to him before he was killed.

    • Hi, all this is very interesting to me, do you have more information about Leo Telvi?
      I would be happy about anything you know.
      Many thanks

      • frank baker/bagot Says:

        Hi Louisa, I don’t know if you knew Leo. The first time I met him was about Sept of 1959. After serving a year for contempt of court (refusing to answer questions regarding his brother Abe) Leo was released on the condition that he had employment. As a favor to a local wiseguy (one I had done many times) I “put him on the payroll”. The office was a three (3) floor walk-up in the Garment Center frequented by local “wiseguys” who needed a place to hang-out. He was dark, good looking, well built (about 6′ and 200 lbs) with long eye lashes (the envy of any woman) His persona was that of a “wiseguy”./ tough guy. Like Johnny Dio, he was dark under the eyes. He always wore a dark colored suit, white shirt and tie. He hung around the office, watched TV, (there was a program about noon time called “the Restless gun with John Payne that we all watched) “shot the breeze” with whoever dropped in and occassionally answered the phone. He began to shylock (not his money) and took small bets. If he won, he was there immediately for his money; if he lost you had to “look for him” He became one of the group of “wiseguys” who each and everynight gathered in one of the cocktail lounges on 36th street.
        Personally I liked Leo and I think he liked me. One day. (I don’t remember where we were) he asked to borrow a hundred dollars.
        (a hundred dollars mean’t a lot more than it does now).
        About two weeks later, at the Bon Vivant cocktail lounge and restaurant, which was always our first stop of the evening, he asked for another hundred dollars. I quipped “hey, I didn’t get the first hundred back” as I began to reach into my pocket. Then it began; “I don’t owe you a hundred dollars” I’ve been answering the phone and I think I earned it” One word led to another and I finally told him “let’s step outside”. Instead he kept up a steady “stream ” of rhetoric. At 9:00 pm the lounge was closing and Leo left to pick-up his car across the street. I followed him (I parked in the same garage) and a physical confrontation began. Two parking attendants, who knew both of us, stopped the fight. as Leo laid bleeding on the ground. The following day while sitting at a desk which faced the door, in came Leo with a small thin man carrying a paper bag in his right hand. Leo’s face was a mess. Looking at the small man with the paper bag (because of the Sullivan Law, guns are transported in paper bags) I said “before you get involved, Leo was entirely at fault” . We have common friends who witnessed what happened. “Go down to the pool room where they probably can be found, ask them and then do what you have to do” The pool room was on the 2nd floor of 136 west 36th street.
        About thirty (30) minutes later the “little man” returned without Leo and said I was right and that would be the end. He then turned around and went down the stairs and I never saw him or his “paper bag” again.
        As to Leo, his personna of a tough guy had been destroyed and mine had been enhanced Embarrassed, he never set foot in the Garment Center again.
        The whole incident was stupid and should never have happened.
        One day driving east, at about 34th and Madison, I had stopped for a light. Standing on the corner was Leo. He waved and I waved back. Like I said, we really liked each other.
        Driving up the West-side highway late one night with the news station on; they announced that the brother of Abe Telvi had been shot to death on the Eastside in the eighties.
        The handed down story that I got was: a bartender owed Leo money and he was putting the “screws” on him.(knowing Leo, he could really “come down hard”) He sat in the bar and the bartender never showed-up for work. As he left; across the street on the roof top was the bartender with a high-powered rifle.

        This is all I have on Leo Telvi

      • Hi Frank, thanks for so many informaton, it’s really exciting for me to know something about Leo Telvi. Something I already knew. Yes, he was shot down from a roof …… very sad, but not in the eighties – on 21 of august 1967 – he is (was) my father
        I’ve passed him by a few days, I was born on 30. of August 1967, my brother was 3 years old.
        It is a sad family history. I would like to grow up with my father and my uncle.
        Although Abe had done bad things, he would have earned a to be a good man.
        Frank, many thanks
        Greetings from Louisa

      • frank baker/bagot Says:

        Hi Louisa, I didn’t know that Leo was married. When I said in the eighties I mean’t around 81st street. Like I said we liked each other.
        It was a stupid argument he and I had, but at that age, with “macho” images, neither one of us could back down. The fact that we waved to each other when I stopped for the light tells it all. Let me say this “your father was a man”.I had found some articles on-line. If I can find them again, I will tell you where to look.
        May your father rest in peace.

      • Hi frank, thanks for the quick reply – that’s fantastic to hear so much about my father, young people make mistakes, which always will be – that is a part of life. For any kind of information I can get, I am thankful. My parents got married in 1965 – as happened the misfortune 1967, we all went back to Germany (my mother emigrated to America in 1958).
        For your compassion , I thank you very much.

  3. One thing’s for sure: they don’t make gangsters like Johnny Dio anymore. He did his time in jail like a man. Died in jail with his honor.

    • Frank "Baker" Bagot Says:

      I really have to learn how to use this computer. I wrote a reply and again pressed the wrong something and erased it.
      Anyway here we go again. I didn’t know Tommy Contino but I did know John, Tommy, Jimmy and Leo Telvi. (50’s) I met John for the first time at the Hai Wai Kai Wai restaurant. I remember when he had JARD Products, Tommy had a piece goods business on 38th st and Jimmy had an office in Augie Weis’s hotel next to the Mannequin Cocktail Lounge and restaurant on 36th st where Jimmy spent most of his afternoons. As to Leo, through an attorney, he was offered a job at my company as part of his release from prison on contempt of court charges.
      There are a-lot of little stories connected concerning my associations with them Like you say: John was a man’s man and if he was your friend, he was a good friend.

      • Frank "Baker" Bagot Says:

        I watched “Good Fellows” on AMC with “story notes” which was interesting. As an example: when Joe Pesci is doing the “you think I’m funny sequel” it was filmed in the Hai Wai Kai Wai restaurant where I first met John. When I previously watched the movie, I didn’t notice that they had an actor portray Johnny Dio, The actor that portrayed Johnny was to me, in no way reminisent of John.

    • bill mcintosh Says:

      Johnny Dio once called my house, identified himself as “Johnny Dio” , told my father the schedule of various family members and threatened us if my dad didnt leave his lucrative union local insurance bonding business which he wanted toturn over to his nephew. You think this guy died with honor? I wouldnt wish eternal damnation on any man and I hope Dioguardi repented of his life of evil deeds at some point but if he did not, upon his death, I doubt his destination was heaven.

      • frank baker/bagot Says:

        John was what we term, “a stand-up guy” There is no denying that he was involved in racketeering. This is the life he was brought up in and chose to follow. When it is said he died with honor, we are referring to the man himself. John had class. I never heard of him wining, begging or pleading. When convicted he took it; and made no deals to lighten his sentence by betraying others. In general, John and those like him did not threaten innocent people but confined the “rough stuff” to those who deliberately provoked them and other racketeers. I’m not saying anything about your father, for I never knew him but perhaps there are things about him you didn’t know..

  4. thewiseking Says:

    Great piece Joe! Scholarly in its detail.
    My father, of blessed memory, was in the lumber business out on Long Island for many years, initially working for a firm as a salesman and then going out on his own with a partner to run their own yard. When they went out on their own, members of the firm he had left used Union muscle, threats and attempted extortion to attempt to drive them out of business even trying to pin fraudulent lumber stamping (rampant at the time) upon his business. My father, somehow, was a “friend” of Johnny Dio and visited him in his office in Manhattan (which I believe was above the Hawaii Kai tourist trap in Times Square) to fix the problem. My sister, only 4 or 5 years old at the time, accompanied him on the visit. Reportedly, the problem was fixed. Mr Dio, who had hosted my folks very hospitably out on the South Shore, went away and his wife (whom I was told was a lovely lady) continued to send my folks Christmas Cards until her passing.
    Do you have any information on Mr Dio’s involvement in the Lumber Business during this period (late 50s to mid 60s)?
    Keep up the good work. Mr Dio’s story would certainly make an entertaining screenplay!

  5. thewiseking Says:

    here is a nice link to the Hawaii Kai, a Tiki themed tourist trap and wise guy hangout formerly in the theatre district

  6. thewiseking Says:

    or, consider dining at The Black Angus, dinner entrees starting at $1.50

    • frank baker/bagot Says:

      Could be. I was introduced to him at the Hai Wai Kai Wai.

      • frank baker/bagot Says:

        Thanks for the article on Jimmy Doyle. Someone recently gave me a 401 page, one inch thick book entitled “Mafia Encyclopedia” edition two, 1999 by Carl Sifakis. No where was there a mention of Jimmy “Doyle” From what I know of the Garment Center the article was right “on the button”. I never went into Damon’s before 7:00pm so I never witnessed Jimmy sitting there. I did go into the Mannequin restaurant occasionally in the afternoon and that is where I saw Jimmy holding “counsel” I may have been the last person in the Garment Center to see or talk to Jimmy. It was in the Mannequin where Jimmy was sitting on his usual stool. I had offered a drink which he refused saying he had an appointment in Queens. What’s strange is I complemented him on his tie. (Here my memory is hazy as to whether he left at 7:00pm or his appointment was 7:00pm) I have a couple of stories if anyone is interested’

  7. thewiseking Says:

    Frank, should you and I ever meet PLEASE do not compliment my neckwear!

    • frank baker/bagot Says:

      Cute! There are somethings I can remember like it was yesterday. I even remember the color of his suit. That article on Jimmy brought back a lot of memories. I had been with the NY Telephone Co. and as of 1954 owned a Communications business.
      I met Jimmy through one of “the boys” when he was wondering if his phone was tapped and his office bugged. I told him “if I didn’t find anything, it doesn’t mean they’re safe”.. He disconnected his private number and all his calls went through the Hotel York switchboard.. (The Hotel had three consecutive lines) It was better than the private number but not guaranteed. Jimmy hated to pay taxes. He listed his income at $5,000 as a salesman Since he owned/controlled all the “sweat shops” where the garments were sewed and assembled it was estimated that he made in excess of $250,000 not counting other endeavors. Supposedly he spent $40,000 for his daughter’s wedding. Again this supposedly triggered the government investigation on income tax evasion.The FBI did tap the Hotel York lines but Jimmy listened and said nothing over the phone. The Hotel was owned by a small time bookmaker, Augie Weiss, Augie “inherited” the hotel when the previous owner lost money gambling and couldn’t pay.(He turned out to be a pretty good Hotel owner). Using the Hotel at the same time was another small time bookmaker named Charlie Korman. The FBI turned the tapes over to the D.A. and both Augie and Charlie was arrested and did time for bookmaking.

  8. I am actually related to Johnny dio just found that out today’s our to be prt of him.

  9. Steven SR. Says:

    Just to clarify what Steven wrote above. Johnny Dio (Dioguardi) is the Grandfather of his mother. His mothers mother was Johnny Dios daughter. We just found that out acouple days ago. The Dioguardi name has been and will be alive again.

  10. Brenda Silver Says:

    I was thrilled to find your story. I am a 2nd cousin to Telvi. My father was his first cousin my grandma and his were sisters. I was one when he died and I was never told about it until I was an adult. Now I know why my aunt was so sad!

  11. bill mcintosh Says:

    Dear Frank-thanks for the measured reply. I think it takes class on your part to reply calmly and in a civil manner. Maybe Dioguardi took his punishment like a man but I will fill you in on what I believe angered Johnny Dio about my dad (may both rest in peace). My grandfather was a brave man who was active in labor issues up in Utica, New York and the Mohawk Valley. (representing management). Hoffa sought out my grandfather who had a lot of power at the time and wanted to get his help to set up a local in that important industrial region. Pop confronted Jimmy Hoffa in a heated public confrontation at a hotel and called him a crook-to his face and repeatedly. We never heard of this at the time but only later on when our grandmother died. Pop often got tips that the mob was in town to kill him and he would leave. I think Hoffa and Dio were tight friends and the hatred formy Grandfather was intense. He may have left the state to retire by the time my dad began making money selling bonding policies off the labor union locals.
    My dad wouldnt cross these people in that line of work but Popsure did. My dad was half Italian and stuck up for Italian Americans when he organized Optimists Clubs. I think Dio may have had some very decent qualities but gangsters can be really mean human beings. Telling my dad the schedule of my mother (insinuating a threat to 5 small children) was really beyond the pale. Lets tell it like it was-Dioguardi crossed the line egregiously by threatening an innocent family and lets not try to justify it by suggesting that my Dad (unbeknownst to my siblings and I) was at fault and had brought this on himself through his own acts against this mafia leader.

  12. Bottom line folks-some day we are gonna be in heaven or hell. The Pope came down hard on the mafia. Instead of getting all nostalgiac about the mafia lets accept that it is a dirty, evil business that is a blight on Italian Americans right to a good name and nothing to be proud of. See article below and ask which side of the great divide you want to be on-Heaven or Hell!!!

    SIBARI Italy (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Saturday took on one of Italy’s most dangerous organised crime groups, calling it an example of “the adoration of evil” and saying Mafiosi “are excommunicated”.

    The pope, speaking about the ‘Ndrangheta crime group during a mass in the southern Italy, issued the strongest attacks on organised crime since the late Pope John Paul lambasted the Sicilian Mafia in 1993.

    “Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated,” Pope Francis said in impromptu comments at a mass before tens of thousands of people.

    He told the crowd: “This evil must be fought against, it must be pushed aside. We must say no to it.”

    He branded the ‘Ndrangheta as the “adoration of evil and contempt of the common good” and said the Church would exert its full force in efforts to combat organised crime.

    “Our children are asking for it, our young people are asking for it. They are in need of hope and faith can help respond to this need,” he said.

  13. My “adopted” grandfather, Charles “Chuck” O’Connor, FBI # 34303, was Johnny Dio’s cellmate at Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. His other cellmates were Frank Costello, Joe DiPalermo (Joe Beck), Charlie DiPalermo (Charlie Brody), Vincent “Sheer” Maneri, and Dominic “Shorty” Alloco. Chuck also knew Jimmy Doyle in Atlanta Penitentiary and all of them afterwards in New York City.

    Chuck’s best friend in the Atlanta Pen was Joe DiPalermo (Joe Beck). They were known as Damon and Pythias amongst all the inmates. Many of the Italians in his cell could neither write nor read English, and, since the law required that all correspondence coming into or going out of Atlanta be written in English, the duty to do so thus fell to chuck and in this way he got to know intimate details in the lives of his cellmates, including , eventually, Vito Genovese.

    I have an amazing story about Johnny Dio and Jimmy Doyle that you probably wouldn’t believe and I have no proof to back it up. But I would love to discuss them more if you are interested.

    • I knew Joe Beck DiPalermo very well. I owned a parking lot at 31 Monroe St. St in downtown Manhattan; across from Knickerbocker Village, where we both lived. Joe was one of my customers. He also had a after hour joint on First Avenue and 10th Street.

      Also, My Aunt Frances, my father’s younger sister, married Tommy Contino, Johnny Dio’s first cousin.

      • Do you know how to find a list of Vito Genovese’s cellmates at the Atlanta Penitentiary from 1962? Chuck, who was nicknamed “Irisher” by his Italian friends, was one of Vito Genovese and Joe Valachi’s cellmates and witnessed Genovese give Valachi the Kiss of Death. Chuck also knew the real reason why Joe Valachi killed John Saupp, and it wasn’t because of mistaken identity of Joe Beck, it was to silence him up about something. It’s a really incredible story and would love to talk to you more about it.

        I have all of Chuck’s prison records and FBI files dating back all the way to 1926 (I even have a picture of Chuck and Pretty Boy Floyd at Floyd’s ranch in the Cookson Hills in 1934, just before Floyd’s death), but nothing that talks about his cellmates in the Atlanta Penitentiary in the 1960’s. The National Archives in Atlanta told me that 30 years after an inmate’s release and no new arrests, their file gets destroyed. I was hoping you might know of another way to find something like this out.

        Thank you for your time.

      • Chuck is mistaken. Valachi killed Saupp because he thought it was Joe Beck. Anything else is conjecture. I got this from reliable, unimpeachable sources.

  14. Mr Dio did not move to Freeport. He lived in a house on Freeport Ave. , in Point Lookout , NY
    Mr. Lunchese lived only a few miles away in Lido Beach
    Dio was a nasty guy and his wife was the same. They never, ever cracked a smile.

  15. Bob Ball Says:

    I grew up in Miami & Miami Beach in the 50’s & 60’s & knew Franki Dio, Johnny’s brother, he was a prick, & one of his specialties was robbing jewel thieves who came to him to fence i.e. sell their stolen jewelry, ran a club / restaurant on the North Miami Beach side of the 163rd St Causeway where the draw bridge opened for boats to cruise the inter-coastal waterways, was also a typical Shylock i.e. money lender. Could relate many stories about him but he mostly rode his brother Johnnys coat tails showed off in front of his chronies but had no balls if he were braced Mano e Mano.

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