Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Fear and Loathing in St. Petersburg Part II

Welcome to the second installment in my examination of the curious cast of characters who flocked to the sleepy Florida city of St. Petersburg in the post-WWII years. Located slightly south of Tampa, St. Petersburg is publicly perceived as a pensioner's paradise but has an underbelly as dark and mysterious as anything in the state of Florida (which, given the Sunshine state's uber city seedy features, is saying something).

During the first installment of this series I chiefly focused upon the bizarre figure of "Count" Anastase "Annie" Vonsiatsky, a White Russian noble-pretender who allegedly played a role in fascist intrigues in the years leading up to WWII. Vonsiatsky operated out of Thompson, Connecticut during the pre-war years, but relocated to St. Petersburg shortly after being released from prison in 1946 (the Count had been convicted of supporting Nazi agents in 1942). The great John Bevilaqua, in his JFK--The Final Solution, has compiled compelling evidence that Vonsiatsky continued to be a major player in the post-WWII fascist underground after he relocated to St. Petersburg in 1948.

With this installment I would like to shift gears a bit and consider one of the more notorious residents of nearby Tampa: Santo Trafficante Jr. For many years Trafficante was the most powerful figure in organized crime and a major architect of the international narcotics market. While based out of Tampa, Trafficante made heavy use of St. Petersburg during his hey day as well. Thus, a run down of such a curious patron is in order. So let us begin.

In the land mark and groundbreaking The Great Heroin Coup, Henrik Kruger notes:
"Meyer Lansky, the Syndicate's financial wizard and its chairman from around 1947, began building his Cuban empire in the early forties. When free elections chased his close friend and dictator Fulgencio Batista from office in 1944, Lansky also left the island, entrusting his empire to the Trafficante family headed by Santo, Sr. Lansky and Batista settled in Hollywood, Florida, just north of Miami. Before long, Lansky was running an illegal casino empire on the coast, and in 1947 he eliminated Bugsy Siegel and moved into Los Vegas.
"All the while Lansky expanded the narcotics trade founded by Lucky Luciano. The older Mafia dons deemed the trade taboo, so Lansky's wing of the Syndicate cornered the market, with Trafficante's eldest son, Santos, Jr., overseeing the heroin traffic.
"When Florida's illegal casinos were shut down in 1950, Lansky promoted Batista's return to power in Cuba. The drive bore fruit in 1952. With Trafficante, Sr.'s death in 1954, Santo, Jr. became Lansky's right-hand man and manager of his Cuban interests. Until then, he had managed the Sans Souci Casino, a base for running Havana's tourist trade and keeping tabs on heroin shipments from Marseilles to New York via Florida and Cuba.
"Trafficante, Jr. has proven more talented than his father. Extraordinarily intelligent and energetic, he has handled the most acute crises with detached calm. Luciano characterized him as '... a guy who always managed to hug the background, but he is rough and reliable. In fact, he's one of the few guys in the whole country that Meyer Lansky would never tangle with.'
"In no time, Trafficante, Jr. ingratiated himself with dictator Batista, while remaining loyal to Lansky, who appointed him manager of his own Florida interests in addition to those in Cuba. Lansky needed to spend increasing amounts of time in New York, between travels to Los Vegas, Rome, Marseilles, Beirut, and Geneva...
"According to Peter Dale Scott, 'certain U.S. business interests collaborated with the narcotics-linked American Mafia in Cuba --as they did with similar networks in China and later in Vietnam --for the Mafia supplied the necessary local intelligence, cash and muscle against the threat of communist takeover.' As Scott wrote those words in 1973, Cuban-Americans recruited by the CIA were suspected by federal and city authorities to be 'involved in everything from narcotics to extortion rackets and bombings.' The Church committee and other Senate and law enforcement reports would confirm these allegations.
"Again we observe the Cuba/Southeast Asia/CIA triangle, and it's no secret who managed the Cuban side. There Trafficante, Jr. hired the fast-learning natives, while dictator Batista's men made the empire safe for organized crime, often appearing more loyal to Trafficante than Batista himself. In return the Cubans learned the business.
"With Fidel Castro's 1 January 1959 ouster of Batista, Lansky and Trafficante were in trouble. Though they were expelled from their Cuban kingdom, nearly a year elapsed before the Syndicate departed and the casinos were closed. Along with Trafficante and Lansky, half a million Cubans left the island in the years following Castro's takeover...
"Out of the Trafficante-trained corps of Cuban officers, security staffers and politicians, a Cuban Mafia emerged under the mobster's control. It specialized in narcotics, first Latin American cocaine, then Marseilles heroin. With his Cubans Trafficante also grabbed control of La Bolita, the numbers game that took Florida by storm and became a Syndicate gold mine...
"Trafficante settled in Tampa, but continued to run some of his activities from Jimmy Hoffa's Teamster Local 320 in Miami. Trafficante and David Yaras of Sam Giancana's Chicago mob were instrumental in founding Local 320, which, according to the McClellan hearings, was a front for Syndicate narcotics activities.
"After losing his Havana paradise, far-sighted Meyer Lansky used straw men to buy up much of Grand Bahama Island and erected a new gambling center around the city of Nassau. But though Lansky and Trafficante each survived in style, neither they nor the Cuban exiles relinquished hope of a return to Cuba. Moreover, they were not alone in dreaming of overthrowing Castro. The CIA in particular let its imagination run wild to this end. Its covert operations expert, General Edward Lansdale, seriously planned to send a submarine to the shore outside Havana, where it would create an inferno of light. At the same time, Cuba-based agents would warn religious natives of the second coming of Christ and the Savior's distaste for Fidel Castro. However, 'Elimination by Illumination' was shelved in favor of less fantastic suggestions for Castro's assassination. The latter brought together the CIA, Cuban exiles, and the Syndicate in the person of Santo Trafficante.
"In 1960 the CIA asked its contact agent Robert Maheu to contact mobster John Roselli. Roselli introduced Maheu to Trafficante and Sam Giancana, the Chicago capo, and the strange bedfellows arranged an attempt on the life of Castro. The agency had previously stationed an agent on Cuba who was to flash the green light when assassination opportunities arose. He was Frank Angelo Fiorini, a one-time smuggler of weapons to Castro's revolutionary army, to whom Castro had entrusted the liquidation of the gambling casinos. Through the latter assignment Fiorini had made the acquaintance of Trafficante.
"In February 1961 Maheu, Trafficante and Roselli met at Miami's Fountainebleu Hotel. There Maheu gave the hoods untraceable poison capsules for delivery to a Cuban exile connected with the Trafficante mob. Other Cubans were to smuggle them to the island and poison Castro; but the attempt failed. Trafficante engineered more attempts, including one in September 1962, and his organization also provided Cubans for the Bay of Pigs invasion."
(The Great Heroin Coup, Henrik Kruger, pgs. 141-144)
"Frank Angelo Fiorini"
The above-mentioned Frank Angelo Fiorini would go on to change his name to Frank Sturgis. Sturgis is most well remembered in this day and age for the role he played in Watergate as one of the infamous "plumbers." Sturgis was not seemingly the only "plumber" with ties to Trafficante, as we shall see.

At this point, however, it should be noted that Trafficante's dedication to the elimination of Fidel Castro has long been questioned. Compelling evidence has emerged that he was a kind of double agent.
"Santo Trafficante was the indispensable man in the Castro assassination plot, even though he was listed as No. 234 in the FBN's International List book, and even though there were serious doubts about his loyalty. The CIA knew, for example, that during the four months he'd been detained in Cuba, Trafficante had lived in relative luxury while he negotiated the return of seized Mafia assets with Fidel Castro's brother Raoul. The CIA also knew that after his release, Trafficante traveled freely to and from Havana. But the doubts were set aside because he was intimately connected to leaders in the anti-Castro Cuban exile community and could contact secret agents in Cuba. One of the purported secret agents, Juan Orta Cordova, was the director of Fidel Castro's ministerial office in Havana. On the assumption that Orta was willing and able to kill Castro, CIA security Edwards had Trafficante arrange the delivery of MKULTRA poison pills to him. The plan was that Orta would drop the pills in Castro's coffee. But Cuban security officials discovered that Orta was a counterrevolutionary, and a Mafia flunky, and he was fired on 26 January 1961. By the time the pills arrived in February, he was unavailable to do the job.
"Immediately after this plan failed, Trafficante --not the CIA --allegedly devised a second assassination plot in which one of Castro's mistresses, Marita Lorenz, was (like Orta) to administer a lethal dose of MKULTRA poison to the prime minister. This hit, for which Trafficante was to be paid $150,000, was contingent on his business partner, Dr. Manuel Antonio de Varona. Linked with former Cuban president Carlos Prio Socarras, Tony Varona in 1961 headed the Meyer Lansky-financed, CIA-created, avidly anti-Castro political front, the Frente Revolucionario Democratico, in Miami.
"After Trafficante had introduced the various conspirators to one another, CIA officer Jim O'Connell passed a handful of poison pills to mobster Johnny Roselli. On 13 March 1961, Roselii, in the Boom Boom room in Miami's Fountainebleau Hotel, passed them to Varona's son-in-law for delivery to femme fatale, Marita Lorenz. But the Bay of Pigs invasion disrupted that particular scheme and, three months later, in July 1961, Siragusa denounced Trafficante as a double agent. He insisted that Castro had jailed the Mafioso as a ruse, and that Trafficante was in fact working with Castro's agents in the lucrative bolita gambling business in Miami. The implication was that he had sabotaged the CIA's first assassination attempt on Castro, and had probably betrayed the CIA in other ways as well. Trafficante... was never arrested for treason or drug trafficking, and though closely monitored, continued to manage his bolita and narcotics trafficking businesses with impunity.
"How could this be, one might ask? The answer is quite simple: so that Trafficante, and other international drug smugglers and degenerate hoods like Johnny Roselli, could arrange assassinations for the CIA."
(The Strength of the Wolf, Douglas Valentine, pgs. 224-225)
Santo Jr
Trafficante's apparent expertise in assassinations will be quite relevant in a moment. For now, let us briefly consider Trafficante's heyday in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s:
"From 1968 on, Trafficante's Cubans were in effective control of the traffic in heroin and cocaine throughout the United States. The Florida capo's only gangland partner of any significance was the Cotroni family in Montreal.
"Trafficante carried out his business in a cool and collected manner. Never out of line with the national Syndicate, he enjoyed relative anonymity while other, less prominent gangsters wrote their names in history with blood. His organization was so airtight that when narcotics investigators finally realized how big a fish he was, they had to admit he was untouchable. The BNDD tried to nab him in its 1969-70 Operation Eagle, then the most extensive action ever directed against a single narcotics network. The Bureau arrested over 120 traffickers, wholesalers, and pushers, but made no real dent. Within days, well-trained Cubans moved into the vacated slots.
"To the BNDD's surprise, a very large number of those arrested in Operation Eagle were CIA-trained veterans of the Bay of Pigs and Operation 40. Among them were Juan Cesar Restoy, a former Cuban senator under Batista, Allen Eric Rudd-Marrero, a pilot, and Mario Escandar. Their fates were most unusual. Escandar and Restoy, alleged leaders of the narcotics network, were arrested in June 1970 but fled from Miami City Jail in August. Escandar turned himself in, but was released soon afterward when it was established that Attorney General John Mitchell had neglected to sign authorization for the wiretap that incriminated Escandar. He returned to narcotics and was arrested in 1978 for kidnapping, a crime punishable by life, but for which he got only six months...
"Juan Restoy, on the other hand, turned to blackmail. He threatened to expose a close friend of Richard Nixon's as a narcotics trafficker, if not given his freedom and $350,000. Restoy was shot and killed by narcotics agents, as was Rudd-Marrero.
"In late 1970, in the wake of Operation Eagle, Bay of Pigs veteran Guillermo Hernandez-Cartaya set up the World Finance Corporation (WFC), a large company alleged to be a conduit for Trafficante investments and for the income from his narcotics activities. Duney Perez-Alamo, a CIA-trained explosives expert involved with several Cuban exile terrorist groups, was the building manager for the WFC. Juan Romanach, a close Trafficante associate, was a WFC bank director..."
(The Great Heroin Coup, Henrik Kruger, pgs. 147-148)
Hernandez-Cartaya was the alleged founder of World Finance Corporation
Long time students of the CIA's drug trafficking endeavors will no doubt recognize the name World Financial Corporation (WFC). Throughout the 1970s, until its demise in 1978, the WFC was seemingly a go-to financial institution for the laundering of drug money by CIA-approved traffickers. The WFC collapse was also an aspect of the Vatican banking scandal, which the enigmatic Opus Dei played a crucial role in. The Opusians seem to have forged close ties with Mafiosi in Italy, so it would hardly be surprising if their counterparts from overseas were also included. But moving along.

the seal of Opus Dei
As noted above, there are indications that Richard Nixon also had ties to Trafficante that may have helped bring down his presidency. The key figure in this regard was the notorious Charles "Bebe" Rebozo.
"Nixon was also compromised through his friendship with Charles 'Bebe' Rebozo, a Cuban American with ties to Santo Trafficante and Mafioso Al Polizzi in Florida. Rebozo allegedly laundered drug money generated by anti-Castro terrorists; and his brother William and William's son were busted on a narcotic charge in March 1969.
"Nixon also maintained ties to organized crime figures. His pardon of James R. 'Jimmy' Hoffa in 1971 earned him the votes of the Teamsters Union and garnered its support for his wage/price freeze and war in Vietnam. But every veteran FBN agent knew that some teamsters provided cover for Mafia drug traffickers. Frank Coppola was godfather to Hoffa's foster son and in return, Hoffa protected Coppola's narcotics receivers in Detriot 'by assigning them to Teamsters Local 985.' Frank Dioguardia, the Mafia Teamster boss busted in the 1965 Nebbia case, provided Trafficante with an office that served as a front for his mob's narcotics activities.
"While in prison Hoffa befriended Carmine Galante, the former narcotics boss of the Bonanno family, and an ally of Santo Trafficante. Galante in the early 1950s set up major smuggling routes out of Cuba and Montreal. In testimony before the Senate Rackets Committee in 1958, Jack Cusack linked Carlos Marcello and Santo Trafficante with Jimmy Hoffa --and gunrunning to Cuba.
"Having served as President Eisenhower's 'action officer' during the planning stages of the CIA's failed Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion, Nixon was certainly aware of Hoffa's activities on behalf of the CIA. Hoffa is said to have been 'the original liaison' between the mob and the CIA in its plots to assassinate Fidel Castro, and to have brought numerous Mafiosi into the conspiracy. It was a criminal conspiracy that forever bound the Mafia, the CIA, and Nixon."
(The Strength of the Pact, Douglas Valentine, pgs. 94-95)

As noted above, Trafficante seems to have had a business relationship with at least one of the Watergate "plumbers": Frank Sturgis. It would seem that one of the most notorious of the plumbers also ran in the same circles as Trafficante's Cuban Mafia.
"Manuel Artime is a perfect example of the CIA's lackadaisical attitude toward the drug smuggling activities of anti-Castro Cubans. After his release from prison in December 1962, Artime's case officer, E. Howard Hunt, placed him in a leadership role in the terrorist Cuban Revolutionary Council (CRC) in Miami. Hunt certainly knew that Artime was using drug money to finance his operations in Miami, as did Hunt's bosses, James Angleton, Richard Helms, and Tracy Barnes...
"And indeed, the drug smuggling Cubans were involved in MKULTRA operations by 1963. CIA execution expert Bill Harvey met with Johnny Roselli in June, at the same time that Trafficante's Cuban associate, assassin Tony Varona, visited Artime's CRC offices in New Orleans and Miami. Harvey stayed in touch with Roselli after his exile to Rome, and thus had a open channel to Trafficante and Varona."
(The Strength of the Wolf, Douglas Valentine, pgs. 305-306) 
Tony Varona, a Trafficante associate who forges ties with an exile Cuban group backed by E. Howard Hunt
Trafficante's possible involvement with MK-Ultra will be discussed in the next installment. On the topic of E. Howard Hunt, its also interesting to note that Hunt was a Brown alumni, as was St. Petersburg resident Anastase Vonsiatsky. The curious cast of characters who have found there way to Brown University over the years was discussed in part one of this series. But moving along.

Brown man E. Howard Hunt
Trafficante also seems to have been on good terms with at least one member staple of the far right as well. Consider yet another of the Cuban intrigues Trafficante's associates became involved in:
"In the JM/Wave period a great expansion in China Lobby-Trafficante-Cuban exile-CIA connections occurred. William Pawley financed a mysterious summer 1963 boat raid against Cuba in his own yacht, the Flying Tiger II. Besides Pawley himself, the crew included mafioso John Martino, who had operated roulette wheels in one of Trafficante's Havana casinos; CIA agents code-named Rip, Mike, and Ken; the ubiquitous Rolando Martinez; and a dozen other Cuban exiles led by Eddie Bayo and Eduardo Perez, many of whom eventually disappeared mysteriously. Loren Hall, another former Trafficante casino employee, claimed that both his boss and Sam Giancana had helped plan the raid..."
(The Great Heroin Coup, Henrik Kruger, pg. 146)
William Pawley
William Pawley was a major figure in the far right lobby group known as the American Security Council (ASC). The ASC would quickly forge extensive ties with the Pentagon and the US intelligence community and has been involved in a host of shenanigans spanning multiple decades. This researcher has chronicled the ASC extensively before here.

And it is here that I shall wrap up for now dear readers. Obviously St. Petersburg did not factor in heavily in this installment but with the next I shall get to the really good stuff, namely: St. Petersburg's ties to MK-Ultra, the Kennedy assassination and the conspiratorial right. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Always interesting how the Opus Dei ,Fascists, Right wing politics, and the mob are connected. Take the silver or the lead. Shine forth brave souls. Respectfully, Dennis