The Morello and Lupo Trial

by Jon Black

The Secret Service begin to track the Morello gang under suspicion of counterfeiting, leading to the downfall of the gangs leaders.

Comito the Printer

Antonio Comito was born in 1880, in Catanzaro, Calabria. He had previously worked as a printer before leaving for New York in June, 1907. Whilst living at 72 James Street, he found work in the city as a printer based on Park Row. Comito was appointed Supreme Deputy of a society called the ‘Sons of Italy’, a support group for recently arrived Italian immigrants to America. Through friends in the society he met Antonio Cecala, a Sicilian who was looking for help with some new printing work.

The two men met at Brooklyn bridge around November 7th, 1908, and went shopping for printing supplies. They were accompanied by a man named Antonio Milone, a long time associate of the Morello gang, Milone had been listed in the incorporation of their Ignatz Florio Co-Operative back in 1902. Together the men purchased some materials from a photographic store on Nassau Street, and Comito helped them buy a printing press from his old work place for $25.

Later Comito was introduced to Cecala’s godson, Salvatore Cina, together the three men loaded the new printing press onto a wagon along with Comito’s personal belongings. The wagon was driven by a man called Nick Sylvester a friend of the young Terranova brothers and ex-employee of Ignazio Lupo’s failed Mott Street store. The four men, along with Comito’s female partner Katrina Pascuzzo, boarded the ferry at pier twenty four to begin the journey out of New York. Later that night they arrived in Highland, then travelling south to a fruit farm owned by Salvatore Cina. The farm was a 42 acre plot with two houses, three hay barns and a stable. At the farm Comito was introduced to Cina’s brother-in-law Vincenzo Giglio.

Comito and Katrina stayed at Cina’s farm for a month, living in a second building, a short distance from the main house. Cina and Giglio later took them to a different building five miles away called ‘Calhoun Farm’. It was from this farm that the gang would begin their work of printing counterfeit bills, a fact still unknown to Comito, who knew nothing about the illegal nature of the work. Comito and Katrina were left alone on the farm, they remained there over the Christmas period. They received regular food supplies from Cina’s farm, mainly simple things like potatoes and fruit.

Back in New York on 237th Street, Antonio Milone, who had helped with the purchase of the photographic equipment, was creating a set printing plates for the gang. Making the counterfeit plates was a slow and tedious, but highly skilled, process. Milone created plates for a five colour, Canadian $5 bill, and a three colour, American $2 bill. The engravings took him months to complete, but sometime around the middle of December 1908 the plates were finally ready.

Cecala returned to Calhoun farm with the counterfeit plates, printing paper, and a green ink suitable for replicating the Canadian notes. With all the materials delivered, and the printing press installed, the gang was ready to begin. It was now that Comito realised exactly what the work involved, until now he had been kept in the dark. He recalled a statement from Cecala:

There are twenty of us who have organized this affair. Others higher up in famous places know if it. They will receive their share. Should anything slip and we get into trouble there will be thousands of dollars for lawyers and we will be freed. We will respect you as one of us, and Katrina shall have respect at all times. When we have made millions, she will be sent to Italy with money of her own. But you, Don Antonio, you will stay with us for life. We are big, bigger than you know. You will know perhaps, later on, about the many branches of our society, and how it is possible for us to do things in one part of the country or world and have the other half of the affair carried out so far away that no suspicion can possibly come to us. After you have obeyed and seen some inkling of our power, you will be glad to become one of us.

The Print Work

In January 1909, test work began on the Canadian $5 notes. After the green side of the notes were complete they began work on adding the next colour. Between each of the print runs Comito gave Giglio printed proofs rolled up in newspaper which were mailed to New York to be checked for quality. After three days a message would be sent back to signal if the work was of a suitable standard.

During January, Cecala arrived at the farmhouse and explained that the printing had to be sped up as the gang had received an order from Brooklyn for $20,000 incounterfeits, and also that Giuseppe Morello had received a letter from Ignazio Lupo asking to see proofs of the new notes.

The gang completed the Canadian bills in late January. $16,000 was tightly packed into empty macaroni boxes, and work immediately began on the green side of the US $2 bills. Comito had trouble mixing the correct hue of green ink for the work, so he and Cecala traveled to New York to find help.

Whilst in New York, they went to 630 E138th Street, the home and office of Giuseppe Morello. When they arrived Morello complained to Cecala about Comito’s presence, he was worried about the fact that there had been arrests made only two nights previously, and that he was constantly being watched by the police. The gang found help in Antonio Milone, the engraver of the counterfeit plates, who would travel to Calhoun farm and help them with the printing of the US $2 bills.

Throughout February, Comito, Cecala and Giglio continued work on the US $2 bills. One night they were visited by Cina, Sylvester, Lupo and a man named Giuseppe Palermo. Lupo, who arrived in a fur lined coat, bought along two revolvers, ammunition and some hunting rifles. Comito’s partner, Katrina, cooked dinner for the men, who then slept before checking the quality of the counterfeit notes in the morning.

After the approval was given, Nick Sylvester returned to New York, but Lupo stayed at the farm for three days. He was noted to be often out on the farmland hunting with his rifles. During his stay Lupo travelled to Highland to make telephone calls, the calls were logged as going to Baltimore, New York and Hoboken. He also visited a hardware store in Highland and opened an account under the false name of ‘Salvatore Saracina’.

At the end of February the gang had printed $10,000 in the US currency. Cecala and Cina travelled to Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City and Pittsburgh to try and sell the counterfeits. They only managed to sell $4,000 for $800 in return. The quality of the counterfeits was proving too poor to sell, the plates produced by Antonio Milone were just not good enough to print from.

Comito travelled to Cina’s farm by wagon, carrying the Canadian money that had been printed in January. At the farm he met Morello, Lupo, Palermo, Cecala, Cina and Giglio. Angry at the recent failure to sell the currency they told him he printed ‘a shit like material which was of no use’. Lupo claimed they should ‘burn the money on Comito’s head’. Morello decided that they would continue the work, but also that they would need improved printing plates and another printer to help them continue. Palermo incinerated the poor quality notes on the farm stove to destroy the evidence.

The gang then divided up the small amount of cash that they had made. Cecala and Cina claimed $200 in expenses for their recent trip, Lupo took $75 for the food supplies he had been sending and Morello took $50. Lupo complained and asked for more cash to cover his expenses, but Morello told him to be satisfied and that there would be more money later. Comito was given $20 before returning to his work at the Calhoun farm.

Early in March, Comito travelled with Cecala to 5 Jones Street, New York to meet Giuseppe Calicchio. Born in Puglia, Italy, in 1858, Calicchio had arrived in New York in 1906 before purchasing his own print shop at 64 Prince Street. Cecala offered Calicchio $20 to help them complete their work and to also to produce better quality printing plates.

Calicchio accepted and travelled with the men to Highland. He worked to retouch and improve the printing plates, they were mounted on the press and he began mixing the inks so they could start work on the new batch of counterfeit $2 notes. Comito and Calicchio printed around $32,000 of the new notes. They were of much higher quality due to the improved plates. Unlike Comito, Calicchio was paid well by the gang for his print work, but on occasions the two printers would discuss trying to escape the farmhouse and the Morello gang.

During March 1909, Giglio sold his share of Cina’s farm to Giuseppe Palermo and then rented a new farm nearby, called ‘Spencer Place’. Comito continued the work at Calhoun farm with Giglio and Calicchio. Towards the end of the month Lupo, Cecala, Cina and Sylvester arrived with new paper and new plates for $5 bills, the work on these began in early April. After printing $3,000, they were wrapped in towels and again packed into empty macaroni boxes before being carted away.

At the end of May, Cina returned to the farm and informed the men that their work was complete, they were instructed to dismantle the printing press as the gang were worried about police surveillance. Cina stated that he wanted to start to count and divide the money, Nick Sylvester drew his pistol and warned the men that the money was not theirs to count, and they should wait until everybody was regrouped. With this, Cecala left taking just $5 for himself and Comito made his way back to New York, where he stayed with Katrina in an apartment on Thompson Street, rented and paid for by Cecala.

The Morello gang received more orders for the improved $2 notes which had been a success. Comito helped the gang purchase a new Gordon printing press and order inks for the work. Late in June, Comito and Calicchio returned to Highland, however, this time they based themselves at Giglio’s new farm, ‘Spencer Place’.

After a week at the farm Comito was working with a man named ‘Uncle Vincent’, Calicchio had left to purchase inks from New York and Giglio had gone to fetch food supplies. Two unknown men arrived at the farm one night and asked to speak to the owner. Vincent and Comito made excuses, saying they were just working at the farm picking cherries. The two strangers then left saying they would return another time. Comito, made nervous by the visitors, fled back to New York.

After two days, Cecala and Cina visited Comito at his home, but he refused to return to Highland. With the printing now complete Cina sold his farm for $5000 and moved his family to Poughkeepsie. The contract of sale was signed by himself and Giuseppe Palermo, who signed his name as Salvatore Saracina. The gang now set to work at selling the large amount of counterfeit money they had produced.

The Secret Service

In the Summer of 1909, the Secret Service received complaints from banks and store owners about the influx of fake currency. Travelling to Pittston, Pennsylvania, agent William Flynn began to investigate. The bills were tracked down to a Sicilian named Sam Locino. After considerable pressure from the Secret Service, and assurances for his safety, Locino told them were he got the counterfeit notes from.

He told the agents that a man named Boscarino, based in New York, 60 years old and originally from Corleone, was in control of distributing the counterfeits. Agent Flynn hatched the plan for Locino to purchase more currency from Boscarino, but this time the purchase would be made with marked notes from the Secret Service.

After the transaction was made, Boscarino was followed around New York by Secret Service agents. He was seen entering 236 E 97th Street, a wholesale grocery store once owned by Lupo, now belonging to Domenico Milone and Luciano Maddi. This was the first connection the agency made between the counterfeit notes and the involvement of the Morello gang.

Agents staked out the grocery store, noting everyone who entered. They spotted Boscarino, Cecala, Morello and even Lupo – who had been missing from New York since his grocery business collapsed. They also began to track the gang members across New York. (Show Details)

Cecala was staked out at the grocery store on E 97th Street. He was often seen with Morello as they visited various addresses across the city, they were also often seen meeting with Salvatore Cina.

Morello visited many businesses across New York including : Saietta and Phillips, Room 211/212 The Rogers Peet Building, 258 Broadway. Frank Zito, 24-26 Importers and Traders Building, Stone Street. The company imported Lemons from Frank Gambino, a cousin of Ignazio Lupo based in Sicily. Star Export and Import Company, Room 1001, World Building, City Hall.

Morello was also seen with his Terranova brother-in-laws Vincent and Ciro, referred to by the Secret Service as ‘his messengers’.

On October 4th, Cecala was seen at a fruit and vegetable stand on third avenue with Leo Luca Vassi and Giuseppe Amato who were both helping the gang sell the counterfeit notes. On October 28th, Cecala, Cina, Morello, Sylvester and several other Italians travelled to a Brooklyn saloon at 46 Union Street, Morello was later seen outside the saloon conversing with a man called Pecorraro.

On October 29th, Cecala and Cina were followed to a drug store at 54 Spring Street where Cecala held an apartment, here they were seen meeting with Giuseppe Boscarino.

On November 4th, Boscarino was followed to Morello’s home at 207 E 107th Street, he then left and travelled to the store on E 97th Street, where Palermo was spotted with Cecala.

On November 13th, Morello was tracked to Brooklyn where he was seen with Lupo and Pietro Inzerillo. Cecala was later seen at 226 Elizabeth Street in the cafe belonging to Inzerillo that had been involved in the 1903 Barrel Murder.

The Secret Service had also tracked Lupo on a visit to Highland, where they learnt from the locals about the farmhouse. The agency now had enough evidence that the source of the counterfeit notes was indeed the Morello gang.

The Arrests

On November 15th, 1909, the Secret Service agents followed Cecala from his apartment at 54 Spring Street to the Bowery, he was placed under arrest and taken to agent Flynn. On his person they found the marked notes that the informant, Locino, had used to purchase the currency from Boscarino.

Leo Luca Vasi, Pasquale Vasi and Giuseppe Amato, who handled currency for the gang, were arrested after their home was raided at 1600 3rd Avenue, during the raid the agents found over one thousand $2 counterfeit notes.

Later that day the agents met with officer Carraro from the Italian police squad and went to 207 East 107th, they arrested Giuseppe Morello who was found in bed with a loaded .44 calibre revolver. Morello was placed in the front room with his son whilst the agents searched the house, Morello passed two letters to his wife to hide but Carraro spotted them and informed the agents, they then found a further four letters hidden inside a baby’s diaper. Secret Service records describe the letters as Black Hand threats that had been issued by Morello himself. Other letters were found ready to mail to Palermo, Chicago and New Orleans. He was arrested along with his step-brother Nick Terranova.

Many other member of the gang were also picked up across the city. Domenico Milone was arrested at the East 97th store. Steve and Colagero LaSala were captured, both lived in the same building as Morello. Antonio LoBaido, Frank Columbo, Giuseppe Mercurio and Luciano Maddi were among the others that were picked up by the police.

On November 18th, Lupo was arrested in connection with the extortion of Manzella, a Manhattan store keeper who claimed his business had been ruined by Lupo. On November 22nd, Manzella failed to appear in court and Lupo was freed only to be immediately rearrested under a bench warrant dated April 21st, that charged him with handling counterfeit money in 1902, he was released on $5,000 bail. On November 26th, 1909 the police department offered a reward that any man in central office that captured Lupo in connection with the Highland counterfeiting would be made a first grade detective.

On December 10th, Calicchio was seen entering a house at 231 East 107th. This was the home of a man known as Rizzo who had helped the gang buy a press back in June. Calicchio was later arrested in January after he had travelled to Philadelphia.

Comito was arrested, on January 4th, 1910, when nine Secret Service officers and policemen raided his flat. He was taken to see agent Flynn where he began to bargain for his freedom by telling him everything he knew about the Morello gang. The Service offered him immunity and money in return for his help, they knew he could be a key witness for the prosecution against the Morello gang.

On January 5th, agents arrived at Giuseppe Palermo’s store ‘Joe Palermo & Co’ at 11 Duane Street, Poughkeepsie. They arrested Cina and Giglio, then took Cina to his home at 20 Duane Street to search for evidence. Other agents went to the Calhoun farm to search for evidence of the counterfeiting, they were looking for the printing plates used in the production of the notes. Even with the help of Comito, who had buried the plates, they could not locate them due to snowfall in the area. The next day they finally discovered some engraving blocks, printing rags and blocks of wood scattered around the farm, all of which would be used as evidence.

On January 8th, Secret Service agents gathered at 8804 Bay 16th Street, Bath Beach, Brooklyn. The house had been leased by Lupo under the name of Joe La Presti, inside they arrested Lupo and Palermo. A search of the upstairs rooms revealed a revolver, letters, passports, and a bank book containing the names John Lupo, Joseph La Presti and Giuseppe La Presti. Lupo offered a bribe to the agents but they took the pair directly to the Brooklyn police station. Palermo offered a bribe of $100 for his freedom, Lupo also joined in the plea, claiming they should release Palermo “let this poor old devil go, he has nothing to do with this”.

Nick Sylvester, who had guarded the farms and carried messages, was already being held in the Tombs on a separate burglary charge.

The Court Case

With most of the gang now held, a trial date was set for January 28th with Judge Geo. W. Ray, and Comito as the governments star witness. Mirabeau L. Towns, was hired as the defence for Lupo and Morello. A highly skilled American lawyer, with the added bonus of being able to speak Italian.

The Morello family began to build false alibis for their imprisoned leader, which included asking the family doctor to lie under oath about the health of Giuseppe Morello, claiming he had been bed ridden with rheumatism during 1909. A lie that was easy to reveal for the prosecution. Not only had Morello been trailed by Secret Service, but witnesses from Highland; the postmaster, a barber and several telephone operators were all summoned to court to identify the gang. The postmaster told of receiving mail for Morello, and of seeing him in the town on several occasions.

Lupo, also lying about his movements, claimed that he had been staying in Ardonia, with the Oddo family. Lupo had managed to evade the tracking of the Secret Service since he disappeared from New York in early 1909, but he was identified by girls from the Highland telephone exchange. They remarked that he had stood out as he was better dressed than the average Italian. A barber also identified Lupo, who had used his shop for a shave whilst in Highland.

The trial was drawn out across seventeen days and finally drew to a close on February 19th when the jury took just one hour to reach a decision of guilty for each defendant. Before the sentences were announced, the court was emptied of relatives and onlookers. Around fifteen detectives, all of Marshal Henkel’s deputies and a dozen of Chief Flynn’s men were used to secure the court and keep the corridors clear. Security was high after Judge Ray had received death threats in the style of the Black Hand, and a knife had previously been found in Henkel’s office.

Giuseppe Morello, the leader of the gang, was sentenced on the first count to 15 years hard labour and a $500 fine. On the second count, 10 years hard labour and a $500 fine. He pleaded for a suspended sentence and to be allowed to return to Italy. He was carried screaming from the court room.

Ignazio Lupo was sentenced on the first count to 15 years hard labour and a $500 fine. On the second count, 15 years hard labour and a $500 fine.

Giuseppe Palermo was sentenced on the first count to 15 years hard labour and a $500 fine. On the second count, 3 years hard labour and a $500 fine.

Antonio Cecala, Salvatore Cina and Vincenzo Giglio were all sentenced on the first count to 12 years hard labour and a $500 fine. On the second count, 3 years hard labour and a $500 fine.

Giuseppe Calicchio, the Neapolitan printer, was sentenced on the first count to 15 years hard labour and a $500 fine. On the second count, 2 years hard labour and a $100 fine.

Nick Sylvester was sentenced on the first count to 10 years hard labour and a $500 fine. On the second count, 5 years hard labour and a $500 fine. He would later pass information to the Secret Service during his time in prison. He told them about the production of the printing plates, and to also the fact that Cina had buried the plates on his farmland, and passed them other information about Morello gang members.

The guilty men were removed from court under heavy guard and held in the Tombs. Two days later the gang were transported to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary to begin their sentences. The leadership of the Morello gang had finally been caught and convicted, the story made the front page of most newspapers.

Further Arrests

Two weeks later, eight more Italians connected with the gang were tried, including Leo Luca Vasi and Giuseppe Amato who had helped distribute the money. The Secret Service were sure that they had smashed the whole counterfeiting ring, but some of the counterfeit notes were still coming into circulation during 1910.

On December 1st 1910, thirteen Italians were rounded up across New York city. The police raided a saloon at 86 Chrystie Street run by Vincenzo De Antonio and Salvatore Sabatino. In other raids police arrested Michale Albanese, Vincenzo Perino of 9 Prince Street, Francesco and Modesto De Sonna from a barbershop at 77 Chrystie Street, George Catania (known as Morello) from 132 Chrystie Street, Rosario Tusso from 172 Chrystie Street and Dominico Saprenza from 22 Stanton Street.

During the raid on Chrystie Street, the police found $1,000 in counterfeit $2 notes in the basement of the saloon. They believed Modesto De Sonna and Vincenzo De Antonio to be the ring leaders in the operation. All the men were charged with passing counterfeit money, De Antonio was held on $10,000 bail and the rest were held on $2,500 – $5000 bail.

On December 11th, 1910, Giuseppe Boscarino, who had been under surveillance in 1909 was convicted by Judge Hugh in the US Circuit Court. He was sentenced to 15 years at Atlanta Penitentiary. Comito, again, appeared as a witness for the government. It was reported at the time that Boscarino had been in charge of distributing the ‘Morristown Fives’ currency around the time of the Barrel Murder. Domenico Milone, who was also on trial, was released on a disagreement before being re-aressted. Luciano Maddi failed to show and forfeited his bail.

Vincenzo De Antonio, the saloon keeper from 86 Chrystie Street was convicted on December 13th 1910, he was also sent to Atlanta Penitentiary.

Desperate Measures

In January 1911, almost one year after his imprisonment for counterfeiting, Giuseppe Morello was reported to have spoken to the Attorney representing the US authorities. In the hope of shortening his sentence he supplied information about the murder of Lieutenant Petrosino. No evidence has ever been found of this.

In June 1911, the family managed to raise enough money to get the case sent to the Circuit Court of Appeals:

The case of the government depended upon the testimony of Comito, one of the counterfeiters, who turned informer, and of his mistress, Katrina, corroborated in many particulars by other witnesses and by circumstances. There can be no doubt that there was evidence to sustain the conviction of all the defendants. The plaintiffs in error rely upon various assignments intended to show that the trial on the whole was not a fair one. It is particularly urged that Lupo and Morello could not have been convicted but for the unfair atmosphere that was created by the prosecution. As this charge of unfairness is serious and made sincerely, and the sentences imposed were severe, we shall consider the assignments relied upon seriatim. We may remark preliminarily that, while things were said and done in the long trial which are much to be regretted, they create a more violent impression when brought together on this hearing than they could have made as they occurred separately at the trial from time to time. The record shows on the whole great regard for the defendants rights, and the charge in particular was full, clear, and unexceptionable.

The appeal did not succeed. The following years saw the Morello gang try to secure the release of their leaders using several different, and desperate approaches:

In 1912, the Secret Service learnt of conversations between Nick Terranova and Giuseppe DeMarco to kidnap agent Flynn’s children, a plan that Nick turned down as he didn’t want to jeopardise his brothers chance of parole.

Secret Service agent, Otto F. Klinke, turned against his former employers in 1912 and claimed the service was corrupt, a charge that was thrown out by a Federal Grand Jury but only after former agent Klinke had given numerous interviews in the press along with John Lupo, Ignazio Lupo’s brother. Agent Flynn was noted as saying the charges were inspired by the Morello gang.

The Terranova brothers started a semi-political club called ‘The White Doves’ with a view to getting a foothold in politics. Nick Terranova had contact with an Italian politician from Chicago who claimed he could secure his step-brothers release for $15,000, $500 upfront and the remainder paid on release, but nothing ever came of it.

A smoker was held in Harlem, with tickets sold at $1 each, the Secret Service learnt that the proceeds were to be used to bribe the guards at the Atlanta Penitentiary to allow Morello and Lupo to escape.

All of the gangs attempts at securing a release failed.

Giglio died from illness in Atlanta Penitentiary on 5th May 1914. Cecala and Sylvester were paroled on 21st February 1915. Cina was paroled from the Atlanta Penitentiary in November 1916. Calicchio and Palermo were paroled in 1920. Morello’s sentence was commuted to 15 years and he was released in 1920. Lupo received a conditional commutation and was also released in 1920.

Morello & Lupo’s rule came to an end when they were imprisoned, the power shifted to various other characters in East Harlem