Obituary: John Bazzano Jr. / Member of the dwindling Pittsburgh mob

June 28, 1927-July 25, 2008

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The doddering Pittsburgh mob lost another elderly member last week with the death of John Bazzano Jr., a convicted gambling kingpin, former underboss and son of a Pittsburgh crime lord who was ice-picked to death in an infamous 1932 ambush in New York.

Mr. Bazzano, who for years ran numbers in the Monongahela Valley for his father-in-law, the late capo Antonio Ripepi, died Friday.

He was 81 and lived in Peters.

In the late 1980s, after he'd served time in federal prison for running a huge gambling ring that paid protection money to Mon Valley police and public officials, Mr. Bazzano moved up in the Mafia hierarchy.

According to the Pennsylvania Crime Commission, he took over the role of underboss to Michael Genovese in 1987 following the death of Joseph "Jo Jo" Pecora of Chester, W.Va.

Mr. Genovese, who died in 2006, was identified by the FBI and the crime commission as the reclusive leader of the Pittsburgh mob, succeeding Sebastian John LaRocca in 1985.

Details of Mr. Bazzano's personal life are murky, and his family did not return a message yesterday left at the funeral home.

During his federal trial in 1976, he presented himself as a law-abiding family man who served honorably in the Army in World War II and always paid his taxes.

But the FBI said he was the leader of a gambling operation that stretched from southern Allegheny County and Washington County into Fayette County to the West Virginia line. The ring brought in $2 million to $3 million a year.

The case against him and his associates first became public in 1974 with FBI raids on a McKeesport numbers bank and the residence of a Clairton man who kept the book for the ring. Agents seized records indicating the mob was paying "ice," or protection money, to seven officials.

In grand jury testimony, one witness said, "If John Bazzano tells me to hit you, I'm going to have to do it."

Mr. Bazzano denied he was ever in the numbers business and later denied any links to organized crime. But he was convicted along with Clairton Mayor John Matz, Clairton Magistrate John R. Ward, former Elizabeth Police Chief Thomas Poljak, Clairton Constable Peter Orsini and Clairton Police Chief David Guffey.

Mr. Bazzano was sentenced to seven years in a federal prison in Connecticut and fined $40,000, but was paroled in 1981. He completed his parole term in 1983 -- parole has since been abolished in the federal system.

After his release, Mr. Bazzano ostensibly worked at Keystone Music Co., a vending machine business in Pleasant Hills owned by Mr. Ripepi, and Bologna Coal Co. in Burgettstown.

But his true job was right-hand man to Mr. Genovese, according to the crime commission, although a Justice Department lawyer said at the time of Mr. Pecora's death that Mr. Bazzano didn't exhibit the same leadership qualities as his famous father.

He was the son of Pittsburgh's first mafia boss, John Bazzano Sr., who consolidated area bootleggers during Prohibition.

The elder Bazzano played a central role in one of the most notorious bloodbaths in mob history.

In 1932, three Volpe brothers, Wilmerding bootleggers who had been business partners of Mr. Bazzano, were killed in a hit at Mr. Bazzano's Wylie Avenue coffee shop in the Hill District.

Two surviving brothers, Louis and Joseph Volpe, complained to the newly formed Cosa Nostra Commission in New York that Mr. Bazzano Sr. had ordered the attack.

In 1932, Mr. Bazzano was lured to a testimonial dinner in his honor in Brooklyn. After the dinner, crime leaders from across the country stabbed him to death with ice picks.

His mutilated body was found a few days later in a burlap sack.

John Bazzano Jr. was 5 at the time.

Mr. Bazzano is survived by his wife, Frances, and sons John, Anthony, Frank and Stephen.

Visitation was yesterday.

Correction/Clarification: (Published Aug. 2, 2008) This news obituary about John Bazzano Jr. as originally published July 29, 2008 gave an incorrect year for the murders of three Volpe brothers killed in an alleged mob hit in the Hill District. The brothers were killed in 1932 at the Wylie Avenue coffee shop owned by Mr. Bazzano's father.

Torsten Ove can be reached at or 412-231-0132.


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