Philadelphia Cosa Nostra Joins Notorious List (And What The Chicago Outfit Got Right)

The Philadelphia crime family formally earned a slot on the humiliating list of Cosa Nostra borgatas to have one of their "secret" initiation ceremonies electronically recorded by law enforcement.

Anthony Persiano
Anthony Persiano recorded his 2015 initiation.
(Photo source: The Gangster Report)

Law enforcement has recorded four "secret" Cosa Nostra initiation ceremonies over the decades, to our knowledge.

The Feds recorded a Patriarca crime family ceremony in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1989.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police recorded a ceremony involving the Bonanno crime family, which has long-standing historical ties to Italian organized crime in Canada. The ceremony occurred in 2015.

The Philly crime family has had induction ceremonies recorded twice. Most recently, Northeast knockaround guy Anthony Persiano became a Federal informant and recorded his October 2015 ceremony. (Persiano is the CI we wondered about in 2018, when news broke about the FBI bust involving members and associates of the Philadelphia mob in South Jersey on drug-related charges.) The road to wearing a wire began, for him, when the FBI arrested him in  2014 for the armed robbery of $235,000 in cash and jewelry from a New Jersey-based pawnshop called the Pawn Shop. As for his initiation ceremony, then-acting boss Michael Lancellotti presided, and attendees included Steven Mazzone, Domenic Grande, and Salvatore Mazzone. The ceremony took place in a South Philadelphia residence and involved several new soldiers getting straightened out.

Persiano may have been "initiated" into as many as three crime families, we learned via The Gangster Report, which noted, "Gangland News cited two sources who could not confirm that rumor, but admitted being told that on the street."

The first time the Philly family had an initiation ceremony recorded was in 1990. George Fresolone, a member of a Newark crew, was one of five members initiated that day. Fresolone flipped for the New Jersey State Police and agreed to record his initiation. He went on to write about the ceremony, as well as his life in the mob, in Blood Oath.

Joe Valachi, we believe, was the first Mafia member to lay bare for the American public how the Mafia formally recognizes new members when he testified before a U.S. Senate Committee in 1963. (A forerunner organization to the Genovese family straightened out Valachi during the 1930-31 Castellammarese War. In fact, Valachi was made by one of Cosa Nostra's only true capo dei capi or capo di tutti i capi or fill-in your favorite Italian word. As noted here, Valachi's initiation, as he described it, was a warm and fuzzy affair that commenced only after "(t)hey ordered for the spaghetti to be thrown into the boiling water and Mr. (Salvatore) Maranzano asked everyone to stand up...." We love such details....)  

Joe Valachi
Valachi takes one oath to break another in 1963.

As of 2022, countless Mafia turncoats have followed in Joe Cago's footsteps. Former Luchese wiseguy John Pennisi is among the most recent to get on the witness stand and detail his initiation ceremony. (The list also includes several other members of the Genovese crime family, as detailed here.)

The major Mafia exception here is the Chicago Outfit, which has been extremely successful in hiding its hand. The Outfit never had an initiation ceremony recorded and, for most, if not all, of the 20th century, and beyond, never generated a single turncoat who testified about their initiation.

Consequently, as per private correspondences we have received over the years, it seems that, to this day, some people still apparently believe there is no initiation ceremony in Chicago.

"The induction ceremony has evolved over the past 100 years, but is still essentially the same for all Mafia families except the Chicago Outfit... The Outfit has no oaths or secret rituals ...."

We've been reminded of that quote many times over the years, ever since we published a story detailing how the Outfit makes new uniforms. People to this day email us to tell us we got that one wrong, that the Chicago Outfit doesn't hold initiation ceremonies. The lack of such a ceremony in Chicago, as we have been reminded again and again, has been clearly documented by no less an authority than Jerry Capeci in The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia. ("The leaders [of the Outfit] simply invite the new member to a formal dinner and introduce him to other members," Capeci has written.)

Far be it from us to throw shade at Gang Land News. But to make our case—and hopefully stanch the flow of seemingly endless emails about this—we'll note that 2004 is the year our edition of the Complete Idiot's Guide was published. The trial for Operation Family Secrets, which definitively addressed the question of how the Chicago Outfit gave buttons to worthies, was still a few years in the future.

Family Secrets
Operation Family Secrets decimated the Chicago Outfit, putting a bullet in the back of its head.

The probe began when a letter reached the FBI's Chicago headquarters from the federal correctional facility in Milan, Michigan. Frank Calabrese Junior, a son of Frank (Frankie Breeze) Calabrese Senior, an especially vicious member of the Chicago Outfit, was reaching out to the Feds. His letter spawned a seven-year investigation of crimes dating back to the 1970s, including 18 previously unsolved murders. The resulting trial included testimony from more than 125 witnesses and over 200 pieces of evidence. In August 2007, Frankie Breeze and four other Outfit powerhouses were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Read more about Family Secrets here.

The Chicago Outfit apparently did it right, and would seem to have legitimate bragging rights—at least until the onset of the Family Secrets case. But up until that probe, the Outfit so adroitly concealed its hand that even in 2004 (note: the American crime families came online in 1931) one of the top authorities on organized crime in the United States still didn't believe the Chicago Outfit straightened out its members. The why: Al Capone, a Neapolitan, disliked what he deemed the medieval ritualism of the Sicilians and rejected the idea of holding a ceremony centered on the pricking of someone's finger to drip blood on a picture of a saint before setting it afire. (There were other elements, such as having a gun and a knife on the table, etc.)

That may be true of Capone, but according to evidence presented at the Family Secrets trial, the Outfit inducts new members using the same ritual as any of the Five Families.

Frank Calabrese Senior
Frank (Frankie Breeze) Calabrese Sr.: During Outfit initiations “they’re watching you” for any show of fear.

As detailed previously, when Federal prosecutors gave their June 2007 opening statement—and when Frank Calabrese Jr's tape recordings of his father were played—and when Nicholas Calabrese took the witness stand, supposedly the first made “uniform” to flip for the Feds—it was revealed that in Chicago, they not only made members, but the ceremony was actually more than the symbolic ritual it is in New York. In New York, getting made is mostly a formality after one's name has been passed around and one has been accepted.  In the Outfit there was no attempt to mitigate the burn on the hand from the burning picture of the saint. The ceremony was crafted to serve as a kind of test of one's mettle:  As Frank Calabrese Sr told his son, "they look at you to see if you’d budge … while the pictures are burning. And they, and they wait till they’re getting down to the skin.”

Also, to be “made” in Chicago meant one was 100 percent Italian and had committed at least one murder. These two key rules have periodically been flouted over the years by the Five Families in New York. But in Chicago, there apparently were no exceptions for potential Outfit recruits—at least historically speaking.

The Outfit's making ceremony was one of the closest-held events in the “secret organization hidden in the shadows,” according to the federal government.

Getting made entitled one to a greater share of the proceeds from illicit gambling, loans, and street taxes.

A Mafia initiation ceremony described in Mario Puzo’s novel the Godfather is “very close” to the truth, according to Frank Calabrese Sr. while speaking to his son in 1999. Both were in prison at the time, only Frank Calabrese Sr. didn't know what his son was truly seeking from him. (We're confused by this assertion. As we recall, there is no making ceremony in either The Godfather novel or film...)

Frank Calabrese Junior  was wearing a wire as part of a personal quest to keep his homicidal father in prison for the rest of his life. As per that mission, he was cooperating with the FBI against his own father — hence, the significance of the name of the historic “Family Secrets” investigation of the Chicago Outfit.

In the first undercover tapes played at the Family Secrets trial,  Calabrese Sr. described to his son the ceremony at which Outfit members were made.

New members were initiated by burning on their palms a picture of a saint like the ones commonly distributed at funerals, as Calabrese Sr. said. A fingertip is pricked with a pin so blood is drawn but the blood isn't dripped onto the picture. He emphasized how  a point of the ceremony was to display one’s ability to endure the pain of the burning picture on  the hand. In fact, the bosses watched to see if anyone flinched.

Joey Doves Aiuppa, boss of the Chicago Outfit
Outfit boss Joey Doves Aiuppa, left.

Calabrese’s sponsor, Angelo LaPietra, was boss of the 26th Street crew in the early to mid-1980s, when Frank Calabrese Sr. and his brother Nicholas were made together  in a single ceremony.

“I didn’t want it. I would be strapped down and if I wanted to do something else, I couldn’t.”

Calabrese’s son, Frank Junior, said his father had told him that to qualify, a candidate had to have committed at least one murder. The initiation could take place years after the fact.

At the time the tapes were made, Frank Sr. believed that he was growing closer to his son while the two were behind bars.

“I lived the life I practiced,” Frank Calabrese Sr. told his son. “I preached, I lived it.”

While others knew only what they’d read about the ceremony, Frank Sr. knew the truth about what happened when the Chicago mob “made a new uniform, " as he called it.

“I thought that was just in the movies,” the son answered.

Well, Frank Sr. said, the making ceremony depicted in The Godfather was pretty close to the real thing. “So whoever wrote that book, either their father, or their grandfather, or somebody was in the organization,” he said.

He had been made, Frank Sr. said, as had his brother Nicholas. The fingers were cut, blood spilled, pictures were set afire and dropped into their palms.

“Pictures of …” Frank Jr. asked, drawing the information out.

“Holy pictures. And they look at you and to see if you’d budge … while the pictures are burning. And they, and they wait till they’re getting down to the skin.”

The capos in attendance observed each candidate.

“They’re watching you,” Frank Sr. said, watching for any show of fear of the flame.

“You know what I regret more than anything,” he told his son. “Burning the holy pictures in my hand. It bothers me.”

But what about the other things he had to do? Frank Jr. asked. An order came, and his father had been required to act, and to kill. And sometimes he didn't even fully know the reasons why, as his son reminded him on the tape. Didn’t that bother him?

“The real model here was not to hurt innocent people,” his father answered.

“That was the real model from back when it started. There were people who were trying to hurt our people or people who are stool pigeons. Very few people ever got hurt—for money. "

Evidence presented at the trial paints the following picture of a secret initiation ceremony in Chicago:

On Sunday, October 9, 1983, brothers Nick and Frank Calabrese Sr. were driven together to a closed restaurant on Roosevelt Road, west of Mannheim Road in Cook County.

Their driver was Jimmy LaPietra, then-capo of the Twenty-Sixth Street crew, aka the Chinatown crew, which was the crew the Calabrese brothers were part of. The vehicle had dealer plates and had been taken from an Outfit-associated lot. The entire day's events were planned with secrecy the foremost priority. That said, if certain people in the know had witnessed LaPietra driving a car, suspicions would've been aroused. High-level members of the Outfit supposedly never drove,  and never cruised around in a car they outright owned on paper, supposedly ever since back in the 1940s when Teets Battaglia and Marshall Caifano were pulled over in a car Teets was driving and Chicago police found a small arsenal hidden in the vehicle.

They parked in the restaurant's lot and the occupants got out and headed toward the restaurant. Frank Sr. and Nick walked into the kitchen. Waiting there for them were Jimmy Marcello, Tony Zizzo, Rocky Infelice, Johnny “Pudge” Matassa, Albert Tocco, and others, including representatives from several Outfit crews.

 Al (the Pizza Man) Tornabene, a member of the Outfit’s Chicago Heights crew, escorted each initiate into the dining room, one at a time. Each would be made separately and alone. While  Al left the kitchen with an initiate, the rest waited.

Eventually, Nick Calabrese was brought into the dining room and made to stand before a table where Joey Doves Aiuppa, boss of the Chicago Outfit, sat. Capos from various crews sat at the table with him. Joey the Clown Lombardo, capo of the Grand Avenue crew, was not in attendance that day because he was serving a prison sentence.

Among those in attendance: Dominic “Toots” Palermo from the Chicago Heights crew, who’d driven Tocco that day. Sam Carlisi of the Melrose Park crew had brought Marcello and Zizzo, Vince Solano from Rush Street had brought Matassa and a “Frank Belmonte.” From Elmwood Park was John “No Nose” DiFronzo who had arrived alone.

Nick stood there and faced Joey Doves and the capos. A gun and a knife were on the table where a candle also stood. (Nick, in testimony, from which this story is largely taken, couldn’t recall exactly what was said in the preamble to his initiation, though it seems there was discussion about never talking about Outfit business with outsiders.) He was asked a question that he answered with a reply about him not being brought up that way.

Aiuppa held a holy card with the picture of a saint on it. He  stood and walked around the table  to where Nick was standing. He lit it the card and dropped it onto Nick’s open hand. Nick held the burning card, trying to evince an emotionless face. He mentally separated his hot palm from the rest of his body doing his best to ignore the burning sensation that gradually worsened as the picture curled around in the fire on his hand.  Aiuppa told him that it was time for him to take his oath.

He was told to repeat three times the following: “If I give up my brothers, may I burn in hell like this holy picture.”

Then the card was removed. Joey Doves used a pin to prick one of Nick’s fingertips and a drop of blood arose from the skin. His blood was not his own any longer, he was told

Aiuppa and the capos congratulated him and LaPietra shook his hand.

The brothers had been called two days prior and had been told to go to Angelo’s home in Bridgeport. They were sitting in his basement at a table when he told them he had recommended them both and that it was there’s if they wanted it. “Yes,” was their reply. Nick wondered what would’ve happened there in the basement if they had said no.

Only those who had committed one or more murders for the Outfit were invited in. They had to be full blooded Italians. It was a lifelong commitment. You also were expected to carry yourself a certain way.

Bonanno Family's 2015 Ceremony
As part of a coordinated Canadian-US takedown that included the arrest of 13 alleged members of the Bonanno and Gambino families, police secretly recorded a 2015 Mafia induction ceremony in Canada in which a defendant sponsored a confidential informant to become a full-fledged member of the Bonanno crime family. 

The CI "was formally inducted into the Mafia in Canada while authorities secretly videotaped the initiation ceremony, an unexpected highlight in a large drugs, guns and money probe snaring alleged mob figures on both sides of the Canada-U.S. borders."

A mobster in the Bonanno crime family traveled to Canada to conduct the induction ceremony, according to U.S. authorities.

The new member was told to report back to a captain in the Bonanno organization.

The bad guys didn’t know the recruit was a CI cooperating with police on both sides of the border and video and audio of the ceremony was secretly recorded.

The induction, involving at least five men, was allegedly presided over by Damiano Zummo, an acting captain in the Bonanno crime family.
During the recorded making ceremony, Zummo told the unnamed inductee:

"It’s already — from this guy, this guy, this guy — everybody approved it, so from this day forward, you’re a member of the Bonanno family. Congratulations,” said Zummo

“Thank you,” the recruit said.

The new member was then formally introduced to other members using the traditional Mafia code of calling a made man a “friend of ours,” and then told the internal hierarchy and who he reports to...

“And now I want to introduce you to John. John, friend of ours with the Bonanno. John, (name deleted), friend of ours with the Bonannos. Now, your captain is (name deleted.)”

“Okay,” said the recruit. 

“He’s our skipper. (Nickname of Bonanno member deleted), is our acting… You’re gonna be in our regime,” Zummo allegedly said. 


"You only answer to the Bonanno family."

Recording of First Philly Initiation 

On July 29, 1990, George Fresolone wore a transmitter and body wire to his own mob initiation ceremony and recorded the secret Mafia rite of passage for the New Jersey State Police.

Close to 380 conversations were secretly taped by Fresolone, who died in 2002 at the age of 48. Fresolone, who co-wrote the 1994 book Blood Oath, died of a heart attack at an undisclosed location where he had been living in the federal witness protection program. No foul play was suspected.

Fresolone, a member of the Newark branch of the Philadelphia crime family, was one of five members initiated that day. 

Acting mob boss Anthony “Tony Buck” Piccolo conducted the service in a home in the Bronx, Fresolone said, and told the five new members that Cosa Nostra was a thing of honor, not a thing of business.

Fresolone’s tapes and testimony led to the convictions of dozens of mob members and associates, including Piccolo, according to George Anastasia.

Raymond “Junior” Patriarca
Raymond “Junior” Patriarca was not the man his father was.

1989 Patriarca Initiation

 On Oct. 29, 1989, New England Mafia boss Raymond “Junior” Patriarca anointed four new soldiers into his crime family. A full-blown ceremony with a total of 21 wiseguys in attendance, it occurred following a civil war.
Junior's father, Raymond L.S. Patriarca, was the founder of the crime family, also called the New England crime family, the Providence crime family and the Boston crime family.

After the 1984 death of Patriarca Senior, the New England Mafia declined and the family's two historic factions -- one based in Providence, Rhode Island, the other in Boston -- vied for control. Jerry Angiulo, the family underboss, moved to take control of the entire organization.

Larry Zannino, a top lieutenant, supported Patriarca Junior, however. New York's Gambino crime family also bolstered Junior's ascendancy, demoting Angiulo and naming Zannino consigliere.

Junior was not his father -- and was viewed as too weak for the top spot. But with the continuing support of the Gambino family, he prevailed. For a while, at least.

In 1987, Zannino was zinged with a 30-year prison stretch. His absence only underlined Junior's weakness. William "The Wild Man" Grasso was named underboss next. A cunning, ruthless mobster, many thought he was the real power in the family. Then Grasso was murdered by rivals in June 1989.

Nicholas Bianco took over the family's Providence operations.

It was against this backdrop that the 1989 ceremony played out, and is also the reason why Junior Patriarca seemed so uncertain, hedging his words.

“We’re all here to bring in some new members into our family and more than that, to start maybe a new beginning,” Patriarca told attendees. “Put all that’s got started behind us ... and bygones are bygones and a good future for all of us.”

The entire proceeding was captured by a bug planted inside 34 Guild Street, the address of the house, which Vincent Federico, one of the four initiates, had "borrowed" from his sister for the day.

The FBI matched Junior's voice to the tape using a radio interview the young mob boss had participated in.

BTW, we love getting your emails, so please keep them coming. Our point here is only that some topics get a little boring sometimes...