In the early morning hours of December 5, 1928, patrol officer Frank Osowski was walking his beat in downtown Cleveland when he noticed a car pull up in front of the Hotel Statler on Euclid Avenue. The Statler opened in 1912 and was the flagship of a small chain of hotels from Buffalo to New York City. Business people and travelers alike frequented the luxurious property.
That morning, Osowski grew suspicious about a group of men entering the hotel. He recounted the experience to a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
“Well, it was this way. A car all covered in dust drew up in front of the hotel. It was about sunrise. I didn’t pay much attention to them at first. Lots of people come to hotels in the morning. But these boys looked tough, as you might say. There were 11 of them.”
After the men checked in, Osowski jotted down their names from the hotel register and returned to the station to give the list to the detective bureau before his shift ended. One of the detectives, Captain Emmet Potts, recognized some of the names as gangland figures. He had just received a telegram from Chicago stating that some of Al Capone’s men were traveling to Cleveland for a meeting.
Potts assembled a group of 75 officers and went with them to the hotel where they split up into groups to round up the men that Osowski had seen, as well as their roommates and others in the party. Cleveland Police grabbed 23 men total. They were all well dressed, and 17 of them carried pistols.
Police at first held them for “investigation,” then booked them on “suspicious person” charges and took their photographs. The newspapers were already on the scene and the Cleveland meeting of suspected bootleggers and gunmen became a national story. Some powerful names were among those brought in, including New York Mob powers Joe Profaci and Vincent Mangano, and Capone men Joseph Giunta and Pasquale Lolordo. There also were representatives from Buffalo and Tampa, Florida. All the attendees were involved in a variety of underworld activities with a common thread of bootlegging.
Captain Potts and some other detectives tried unsuccessfully to interrogate the suspects. Each of the men gave his own reason for attending the meeting. Police summoned immigration officials to shake the men up, but they didn’t give up any more information, even under threat of deportation. Bail was set at $200,000 for 22 of them. One of the detained men, Sam Tilocco, called Cleveland Mob boss Joe Porello from jail. Porello immediately started raising money for bail. By December 7, all but one had been released after posting bond. Police held onto Salvatore Lombardino, from New Jersey, on an outstanding murder warrant.
Little is known about the reason for for the Hotel Statler meeting. David Critchley, in his book The Origin of Organized Crime in America, believes the goal was to discuss the killing of Brooklyn Mafia boss Salvatore D’Aquila and additional assassinations in Chicago. Chicago Police believed it was a “meeting of ‘captains of the industry’ to elect a successor to [Unione Siciliana president] Tony Lombardo,” who had been killed three months earlier.
Joe Profaci, in testimony to the Kefauver Committee more than 20 years later, told chief counsel Rudolph Halley that he “was there to sell merchandise, oil,” adding that he sought to meet specific grocery owners, such as Ignazio Italiano, to sell them his olive oil. According to an FBI report from 1959, an investigation into this “alleged meeting of the Grand Council of America” cited police informants who claimed that the “rivalries in the corn-sugar business caused the meeting to prevent an upheaval.” Bootleggers used the corn-sugar business in Cleveland to distill illegal liquor during Prohibition. Before the 1928 meeting, police tied the killings of 15 people in Cleveland to gang clashes over the corn sugar trade.
After police released the men, the courts dismissed most of the charges, but authorities told some of the hoodlums to get out of town. Over the course of the next 40 years, a number of the attendees went on to long criminal careers, such as Profaci, while others, such as Paul Palazzolo, met an early demise in gangland killings.
The Hotel Statler expanded in the ensuing years, eventually converting to an office building and then into apartments. In January 2018, a local development company bought the historic building for $40 million, with plans to renovate “the tired property into a higher-end asset.” Hopefully, somewhere, they’ll pay homage to the building’s historic significance in the development of organized crime in America.
Was the Statler meeting the first major convention of racketeers? That’s unlikely, as the Mafia had been a presence for some time in America by then and regular meetings among racketeers were not uncommon during the Prohibition era. The Statler meeting did, however, showcase a much larger geographic reach and marked the first time that gangsters from Buffalo, St. Louis and Tampa gathered together. It was a significant find for law enforcement as well, giving them insights into the early incarnations of Mafia families across the country.
Attendees of the 1928 Cleveland meeting
Buffalo, New York
Salvatore “Sam” DiCarlo
Giuseppe “Joe” Vaglica (gunned down in Tampa on July 10, 1937)
Paul Palazzola (gunned down in Gary on April 5, 1935)
New York City/New Jersey
Emmanuel Cammarata (murdered in Miami on September 1972)
Vincent Mangano (vanished on April 19, 1951, presumed murdered)
Giuseppe Magliocco (died of a heart attack on December 28, 1963. Authorities exhumed his body in 1969 to test if he died from poisoning. He had not.)
Giuseppe “Joe” Profaci
Sam Tilocco (shot and killed on July 5, 1930)
Tony Bella (a.k.a. Phil Bucino)
Giuseppe Giunta (body found on May 8, 1929, reportedly beaten and shot by Al Capone)
Pasquale Lolordo (shot and killed on January 8, 1929)
Calogero San Filippo (disappeared March 31, 1931, presumed murdered)
Scott M. Deitche is an author specializing in organized crime. He has written seven books and more than 50 articles on organized crime for local and national publications. He’s appeared on the History Channel, A&E, Discovery Channel, AHC, C-SPAN and Oxygen Network. In addition, he’s been on dozens of local and national news shows, as well as more than 40 radio programs. His latest book is Garden State Gangland: The Rise of the Mob in New Jersey.