Priest's case tied to notorious figure The late Russell Bufalino was a mob kingpin in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Posted: January 03, 2008

Nearly 14 years after the death of Russell Bufalino, the onetime crime boss for northeast Pennsylvania, his name is turning up again in a grand jury indictment.

This time of a priest.

Yesterday, Dauphin County prosecutors announced they would charge Roman Catholic priest Joseph F. Sica with lying about his relationship with the Bufalino patriarch, who was convicted in 1981 of conspiring to have a federal witness killed. Sica's arrest stemmed from the grand jury investigation into casino operator Louis A. DeNaples and his possible mob connections.

Bufalino once was regarded as Pennsylvania's most powerful mobster. His criminal activities stretched back to the 1940s, when he began working for mob-run coal and garment companies.

During the 1970s, two books made sensational allegations that Bufalino ordered the killing of Jimmy Hoffa, who disappeared in 1975. Hoffa's remains have not been found, and no one has been charged.

In another book, which came out in 2004, Frank Sheeran, a former Wilmington Teamsters boss and Hoffa associate, contended he had been involved with Bufalino in a hit on Hoffa. Sheeran's lawyer wrote the book after the teamster's death.

The federal government tried unsuccessfully for years to deport Bufalino, saying he was born in Sicily, Italy, and was in the country illegally.

Bufalino said he had been born in Pittston, Pa., in 1903. He started out as an auto mechanic, but later worked as a so-called efficiency expert for mob-run garment and coal companies, a man who could find ways to make businesses more profitable. During deportation hearings, interviewers marveled at how little he knew about what he did.

By the 1950s, he was the alleged underboss in New York for Joseph Barbara, a man with a reputation for ruthlessness.

Bufalino traveled to Cuba, where he stayed in mob-owned hotels and was thought to be arranging the smuggling of drugs and diamonds.

The Federal Bureau of Narcotics at the time called him "one of the most ruthless and powerful leaders of the Mafia in the United States."

In November 1957, Bufalino was said to have organized one of the biggest gatherings of mob bosses in the United States. The notoriety surrounding the raided meeting at Barbara's home in Apalachin, N.Y., made Bufalino a national crime figure.

Those in attendance included James Osticco. Osticco was later convicted of trying to fix the conspiracy trial of DeNaples, who was accused of submitting bogus bills to the federal government for providing heavy equipment for the cleanup of Hurricane Agnes in 1972. DeNaples later pleaded no contest and was convicted of one count. Sica, the priest, is described as a friend of DeNaples' and an adviser to him.

DeNaples told a Scranton newspaper, the Times Tribune, that he knew nothing of Osticco's efforts, which involved trying to bribe a juror's husband with $1,000 in cash, a set of tires, and a watch. DeNaples contended that he was not guilty of the federal fraud charges, but that he had a family to support and little money to pursue another defense.

DeNaples has been linked to William D'Elia of Hughestown, Pa., who reputedly now heads the Bufalino crime family.

In 1969, the first major Justice Department strike force against organized crime focused its gaze on Bufalino, but it would take until 1977 before federal prosecutors won their first case against him.

At his sentencing, an assistant U.S. attorney told the judge that Bufalino had engaged in criminal activities throughout his life, including loan-sharking, illegal gambling, transportation of stolen goods, and labor racketeering.

Bufalino spent four years in prison.

He was later convicted of conspiring to have a federal witness killed and was freed on that charge in 1989 after serving 7 1/2 years of a 10-year sentence.

He died in a nursing home in 1994 at age 91.

In 1980, the now-disbanded Pennsylvania Crime Commission said Bufalino ran the most powerful organized-crime family in the state, no small feat in a state that includes Philadelphia.

Contact staff writer John Sullivan at 215-854-2473 or johnsullivan@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|