Peter J. Maggio, 71, Phila. Cheese King

Posted: July 11, 1992

Peter J. Maggio, 71, who built a major cheese business while fending off repeated allegations of mob ties, died Thursday at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Born Pietro Maggio in 1920 in South Philadelphia, Maggio took over M. Maggio Co. Inc. after his father's death in 1959.

His father, Michael Maggio, was a powerful La Cosa Nostra figure who proposed the late mob boss Angelo Bruno for membership. Peter Maggio married Bruno's younger sister, Michelena.

With his brothers Mario and Salvatore, Peter Maggio expanded the cheese and milk business along the East Coast.

Although the business was legitimate, state and federal agencies repeatedly listed him as a member of the crime family.

Maggio, of Coulter Street near Vaux Drive in East Falls, was not the kind of man to deny his family relationships or the friends of his youth, even though his associations led to more than a dozen grand jury appearances.

"My father was never even charged or convicted of a crime, never took the Fifth Amendment, and always cooperated," said his elder son, Michael Maggio, a Washington, D.C., immigration lawyer.

Maggio reacted to the mob probes "with a combination of righteous indignation and humor," Michael Maggio said.

"The only thing my father was guilty of was not denying friendships that he had all his life," his son said. "He was never ashamed of his friends, certainly not of my Uncle Angelo. We all loved him."

When Peter Maggio was young, his father wanted him to go to college and drove him every day to Temple University. Peter was on the swim team until his father made him quit. Then, Peter figured that if he couldn't swim, he wouldn't go to class. So he went in the front door at school and out the back, his son Peter, owner of a Cherry Hill, N.J., catering business, said.

When his father learned Peter wasn't attending classes, Peter had to work full time in the cheese business. "My grandfather was a hard taskmaster on all three boys," Peter Maggio said.

Maggio became an entrepreneur with vision.

"He wanted to vertically integrate. He went to Ohio to learn how to make cheese. Then he went to Denton, Md., to get the farmers to sell the milk to him in Philadelphia. At one time, we had the milk hauling, milk bottling, milk distribution, cheese manufacturing and convenience stores," Peter said.

"His workers from the receptionist on down to the man who hosed down the cheese plant called him 'Pete' or 'Mr. Pete.' He was greatly admired and respected because he was such a down-to-earth, unpretentious guy," Michael said.

His desire to expand the business in the early 1970s met stiff opposition

from the district attorney, City Council and the zoning board, who questioned his family connections and two low-interest loans totaling $820,000 from the state Commerce Department.

Eventually, he received the zoning variance, but not until DA Arlen Specter had demanded all of his business records and hauled him before a grand jury.

The love of his life, however, was his wife.

"My dad absolutely adored my mom. If there were two of them in a picture, he's looking at her. He adored her and she adored him. Growing up, it was so wonderful to see that," Peter said.

Although considered an "old-school Italian" by his family, Maggio didn't flinch when his wife decided late in life to go to college and get a doctorate in counseling.

"My father had hell to pay because women in the family didn't go to

college. They stayed at home," Michael recalled. "A lot of people thought that was pretty outlandish at the time."

He had a "great sense of humor" and "wonderful way with children."

At Thanksgiving, he would tell the youngest kids in the family how he had gotten up early that morning to go out and shoot a turkey for dinner. As the roasted bird sat on the table, he would point to the hole where the thermometer had been and say that was where he shot the bird. Then he'd pull a shell casing from under the white meat and give it to the youngest child, his sons said.

Once while vacationing at his summer home in North Beach on Long Beach Island, Maggio drove a boat to a restaurant on the causeway. The maitre d' refused to allow him in without shoes.

"I left them in the boat. I'll be right back," Maggio said.

A few minutes later, he walked into the restaurant in water skis.

"Everybody was laughing," Peter Maggio said, but he still wasn't allowed in. So he tapped a customer on his way out. "How much did you pay for those thongs?"

"Three, four bucks."

"I'll give you five," he said.

Besides his wife and two sons, Maggio is survived by two brothers, Mario and Salvatore; one sister, Precious Marino; and two grandchildren, Peter James and Fallon Palmer Maggio.

A viewing will be at 9:30 a.m. Monday at St. Bridget's Catholic Church, 3673 Midvale Ave., followed by an 11 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial. Burial will follow at Holy Cross Cemetery.

The family has asked that donations be sent to the Kerry Ann Katter Memorial Fund, Suite 775, 11 Dupont Circle NW, Washington, D.C. 20036.

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