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Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Mafia's Ties to Wisconsin Cheese

In March of 1980, after a two year investigation, the Pennsylvania Crime Commission released a Report of the Study of Organized Crime’s Infiltration of the Pizza and Cheese Industry. Wisconsin’s Grande Cheese Co of Fond du Lac was referenced several times.

Grande Cheese Co., mentioned in the body of the report in reference to Joseph Bonanno, Roma Foods and the Falcone Brothers, was born out of a Chicago gang war in 1939. During the first few years of its operation, at least five men, including the owner, were killed. Chicago crime boss Ross Prio eventually gained control of the company. Over the years Grande has been owned by or associated with numerous organized crime figures.

In the 1950's the ownership of Grande Cheese passed from Ross Prio to the DiBella family, John and his sister, Rose. John DiBella became corporate President in 1959. John had ties
to Milwaukee crime boss John Alioto who was Frank Balistrieri's father-in-law. John Alioto was the Milwaukee mob boss from 1952 until 1961 when he handed over control to his son-in-law, Frank Balistrieri. DiBella’s sister Rose took over her brother's stock after his death in 1964, and later sold her interest to the Candela and Gaglio families. The Gaglio family owned Ontario Importing, founded by the family patriarch, Vito Gaglio, in the mid-1960's.

The actual control of the cheese and pizza business began with no less a figure than Joseph Bonanno, Sr. Bonanno, living at that time in Tucson, Arizona, was regarded as one of the most powerful leaders of Organized Crime in America. Bonanno initiated a conspiracy to control the specialty cheese business in the United States in the early 1940's and even in 1980, he and his associates controlled the activities of some of the largest and most prosperous specialty cheese companies. Bonanno had direct ties to Grande Cheese of Wisconsin; through it to Grande's exclusive distributor in the Pennsylvania area, Roma Foods of South Plainfield, New Jersey; and through the distributor to hundreds of retail pizza shops which were financed and controlled by the organization in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

The Falcone brothers of Brooklyn, New York--formerly associated with Bonanno-tied Grande Cheese and partners with a Grande officer in other Wisconsin cheese companies--built and operated for a decade a network of fraudulent "paper companies" designed to produce millions of dollars for the Falcones only to collapse financially when challenged by claims of their legitimate business victims.

The Pennsylvania Crime Commission investigation had determined that the Falcones and Thomas Gambino drove another company into bankruptcy in 1976. In December of 1975, the
Falcones and Gambino bought 70% of the stock of the previously family-owned Badger State' Cheese Company in Luxemburg, Wisconsin. Eight months later, Badger State Cheese collapsed in disarray with $1.3-million in debts. The Falcones and Gambino had taken over Badger and arranged that Capitol Cheese of Brooklyn, New York be the major customer and distributor for Badger. Capitol Cheese of Brooklyn was operated by Joseph and Thomas Gambino. Joseph Gambino was a leader in the Carlo Gambino crime organization.
Capitol Cheese directed delivery of Badger State cheese to Capitol's customers, collected payment from the customers, and then the cash disappeared. When Capitol Cheese owed Badger State Cheese $560,000, Badger State closed down and the Wisconsin State Department of Agriculture placed the company in trusteeship. Capitol Cheese, the Gambino business in Brooklyn, afterward, went out of business.

Also involved in the Crime Commission Investigation:
F & A CHEESE of Grand Rapids, Michigan, owned by Francesco and Angelo Terranova. The Company was started with a loan from the uncle of the Terranovas, John DiBella of Grande Cheese. F & A Cheese had another office in Upland, California. Raffael Quasarano, a member of the Joseph Zerilli criminal organization of Detroit, and Peter Vitale were indicted by a federal grand jury in Detroit in November, 1979 for allegedly extorting $270,000 from the Terranovas. They were also charged with mail fraud, tax fraud and racketeering. According to the indictment Quasarano and Vitale used "fear of economic loss" and threats of "force and violence" to gain control of an F & A subsidiary, Rogersville Cheese Factory, Inc. in Wisconsin.

According to a report printed in the Milwaukee Sentinel on Aug. 7, 1980, the owner of a Wisconsin cheese factory (Rodgersville Cheese Factory) allegedly taken over by organized crime bosses from Detroit was told by either Quasarano or Vitale in 1974, “The big fish is swallowing the little fish, and you're lucky your legs aren't broken, according to Federal Court testimony that day. Both eventually pled guilty and were sentenced to prison terms of four years each in 1981.


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