San Diego Hitman, Boss & FBI Informant
By Allan May
Few hoodlums ever handled the dual responsibilities of being a ranking member of a Mafia family and a FBI informant like Frank Bompensiero and James “Jimmy the Weasel” Fratianno. Ironically, the two mobsters were best friends. However, when the FBI decided that Fratianno was a bigger fish than Bompensiero, they left him out on a limb that was quickly cut off by the Los Angeles mob.
Bompensiero was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1905. Not much is known about his early years. The first murders he was involved in for the mob turned out to be “messy” ones. In California during 1937, newly arrived Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel laid down the law and stated that all West Coast gamblers would have to share their profits fifty-fifty with him. The lone dissenter was Lew Brunemann, a gambler from Redondo Beach who had aspirations of controlling all the gambling in southern California.
In July 1937, Brunemann was strolling along Redondo Beach with a beautiful blonde hostess from one of his clubs. Bompensiero and another gunman walked up behind him and put three slugs in his back. Brunemann survived. During his recovery period Bompensiero found out that Brunemann was leaving the hospital and having his dinners at the Roost Café, a classy Redondo Beach restaurant, with one of his nurses. On October 25, Bompensiero showed up with gunman Leo “Lips” Moceri.
Moceri had made a name for himself in the Mid West with the murder of popular Toledo bootlegger and gambler Jackie Kennedy in 1933 as a member of Detroit’s Purple Gang. Thomas “Yonnie” Licavoli was sentenced to life in prison for the murder. Moceri was never tried.
Moceri, who didn’t trust Bompensiero, told Jimmy Fratianno about the murder of Brunemann:
“I’ve got a forty-five automatic and the place’s packed with people. I walk right up to his table and start pumping lead. Believe me, that sonovabitch’s going to be dead for sure this time.
“Bomp’s supposed to be by the door, watching my back to make sure nobody jumps me. I turn around and I see this football player … coming at me. Bomp’s nowhere in sight. Now I’m either going to clip this (guy) or he’s going to knock me on my ass. So I blast him and run out, and there’s Bomp already in the fucking car … waiting for me. That guy showed me his color…”
Moceri then warned Fratianno, “If you ever work with Bomp, get him out in front of you instead of behind you.” The police arrested another man for the murder of Brunemann and he was convicted and sent to prison.
Moceri then told Fratianno that on February 28, 1938, Bompensiero abducted Phil Galuzo off a Los Angeles street. Forced into an automobile, Galuzo was given a vicious beating before he was dumped in the gutter and shot six times. Galuzo died in the hospital a week later.
Bompensiero then disappeared from the West Coast for three years. Moceri gave him the names of some people who would safe-keep him in Detroit, where he remained for two years. He then went to Tampa and was protected by the Trafficante Family. When he returned to Los Angeles in June 1941, the murder charges against him were dropped due to lack of evidence.
After the murder of Bugsy Siegel in June 1947, hapless Los Angeles Mafia boss Jack Dragna attempted to take over the local gambling operations. He ran into a road block in the form of Mickey Cohen, one of Siegel’s top henchmen who was not willing to relinquish any of the rackets and the war was on.
Cohen did not see Fratianno as his enemy yet. On August 18, 1948, Fratianno, and his wife and daughter visited Cohen’s haberdashery shop under the guise of picking up tickets to see the musical Annie Get Your Gun. Outside was a hit squad waiting for the Weasel’s signal. Fratianno thanked Cohen for the tickets and, before leaving, shook the pint-sized mobster’s hand. What Fratianno wasn’t aware of was that Cohen had a strange fetish for cleanliness. As soon as Fratianno left, Cohen immediately retreated to a bathroom to wash his hands.
Once outside, Fratianno signaled Frank DeSimone and a car containing four men pulled up and three jumped out. At the same time, Cohen bodyguard, Hooky Rothman walked out. Bompensiero, wearing sunglasses and a white Panama hat pulled low over his forehead, stuck a sawed-off shotgun in Rothman’s face and ordered him back in. As the other two gunmen ran past him, Rothman swung at the shotgun causing it to go off obliterating his face and killing him instantly. Two other Cohen associates, Al Snyder and Jimmy Rist, were slightly wounded, but the gunmen never got to Cohen who throughout his life had a miraculous record of avoiding murder attempts.
After this failed attempt, Moceri would once more question Bompensiero’s ability:
“It was Bomp’s contract, and he blew it. Listen, (the others) didn’t know Mickey from a lamp post, but Bomp did. They go in there and blast away at Al Snyder thinking he’s Mickey. Then they shoot him in the arm, for Christ’s sake, While this’s going on, Mickey’s in the shitcan, standing on top of the sink. They didn’t pump one slug through that door. Like a bunch of cowboys, they panicked and ran out instead of finishing the job.”
Around this time Jack Dragna appointed Bompensiero boss of the San Diego territory. He and Dragna jointly owned several bars in the area and Bompensiero had his office at the Gold Rail. In the early 1950s, Fratianno met with Bompensiero there to discuss plans to murder Frank Borgia, an ex-bootlegger still tied to Dragna. Bompensiero explained to Fratianno that Gaspare Matranga was trying to extort money from Borgia and he went to Dragna to lodge a complaint. What Borgia didn’t know was that Dragna was in on the shakedown and he ordered Bompensiero to murder him. Bompensiero told Fratianno what a double-dealing rat Dragna could be. This was a habit of Bompensiero’s, making disparaging statements about fellow Mafiosi behind their backs, which he would continue for years until it eventually led to his downfall.
The murder plot called for Borgia’s best friend to set him up – a standard Mafia murder practice. Anthony Mirabile brought Borgia to the home of Joseph Adamo. Once inside the front door, Mirabile grabbed Borgia in a bear hug, while Bompensiero and Fratianno performed what the Weasel called the “Italian rope trick.” That is they looped a rope around the victim’s throat and two men pulled from opposite ends until the person was choked to death.
A side note to this incident, Joseph Adamo’s brother was Giolamo “Momo” Adamo, a onetime underboss of the family. In 1956, Frank DeSimone was about to become boss of the Los Angeles Mafia. That year, according to a police informant, DeSimone raped Adamo’s wife, Marie, in the presence of Momo. The humiliated Adamo later shot his wife and then committed suicide in their San Diego home. Marie Adamo survived her wounds and later married Bompensiero.
Next on the hit parade was Louis Strauss, better known as “Russian Louie.” Strauss had attempted to blackmail Benny “the Cowboy” Binion, a former Dallas bootlegger and now a Las Vegas developer. Apparently Strauss made his threats unaware that Binion had known Jack Dragna for many years. Binion promised Dragna a twenty-five percent interest in a future casino if he would handle this problem. It took eighteen months, but in April 1953, Fratianno enticed Strauss into a setup in California. When Strauss entered the house Joe Dippolito performed the bear hug routine, while Bompensiero and Fratianno turned the Italian rope trick again. This time, oddly enough, four other mobsters were on hand to observe the strangling.
The casino deal never materialized and several years later Fratianno brought this to Binion’s attention. Binion agreed to pay Fratianno $60,000 for his work, which the Weasel promptly split among his co-conspirators – Bompensiero, Dippolito, and “Milwaukee Phil” Alderisio, who drove Strauss to the murder house.
In 1955, Bompensiero was convicted on three counts of bribery in the sale of a California state liquor license and was sentenced to three to fourteen years in San Quentin. He would serve a total of five years. A year before Bompensiero’s release, Fratianno was transferred to the same prison. While together, Bompensiero related to the Weasel that while he was awaiting trial on the bribery charges, he killed “Red” Sagunda, an ex-Cleveland thug who had made his way to San Diego.
During the time Bompensiero and Fratianno were away in prison, major changes were taking place in the Los Angeles Crime Family. Jack Dragna died in 1957 and was succeeded by lawyer-turned-mobster Frank DeSimone. The family, which would become known as the “Mickey Mouse Mafia,” grew weaker under his leadership. When DeSimone died in 1968, his replacement, Nick Licata, would prove to be even less effective.
From 1960 to 1965, his probation period, Bompensiero avoided problems with the law. However, both he and Fratianno made overtures to get transferred to the Chicago Family. Only the Weasel was successful in this endeavor.
In the mid-1960s, Fratianno claims he and Bompensiero had a series of meetings with attorney Joseph L. Alioto, the future mayor of San Francisco. Bompensiero knew many of Alioto’s relatives back in his hometown of Milwaukee. One of Alioto’s relatives was the boss of the Milwaukee Crime Family from 1953 to 1962. In addition, Bompensiero was the godfather of Alioto’s cousin’s child. Bompensiero tried to work out a deal with Alioto’s brother-in-law, Rudy Papale, to sell lard in Mexico. In 1968, when Alioto was mayor and under consideration as a possible candidate for the Democratic nomination for vice president, these meetings would come back to haunt him. Alioto denied ever meeting Fratianno and swore in court, “I do not know and have never met Frank Bompensiero.”
Although Bompensiero and Fratianno were close friends and shared many of their thoughts and feelings, Bompensiero despised another intimate friend of the Weasel’s, Johnny Roselli. A representative of the Chicago mob in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Roselli, never a mob boss, commanded a great deal of respect. During the mid-1960s, Bompensiero told Fratianno about his reasons for disliking Roselli:
“These two guys (from Detroit) were having a feud and they went to see Joe Zerilli, each wanting the other guy clipped. So Mike Polizzi came to see me and this was strictly between us, nothing to do with the L. A. family. They tell me who they want clipped but I’ve got to do the job alone.
“As it happens I know the guy. So one night I see him at a party and I pull him aside. I says, ‘Look here, you’ve been having this problem and the old man’s given me the contract. I’m going to clip this guy but I’m going to need your help.’ Now this guy’s all happy, see, and I tell him I’ve got a bad back and I need him to dig the hole. We go out to this fucking place I’ve picked out ahead of time and this guy starts digging the fucking hole. Works like a sonovabitch, this guy, sweating bullets. So finally he says, ‘How’s that? Deep enough.’ I’m sitting down, resting, so I get up and I says, ‘It’s perfect.’ He starts climbing out of the hole and I shoot the cocksucker in the back of the fucking head. Back down he goes in the hole and I fill it in.”
Bompensiero then told Fratianno that he was supposed to receive a percentage of the profits from the Frontier Casino in Las Vegas as compensation for the hit. When the Detroit mobsters reneged, Bompensiero went to see Johnny Roselli, the so-called “man in Las Vegas” to settle the beef. Instead, of it being settled in Bompensiero’s favor, Roselli ended up with a percentage of the gift shop there. Although Roselli later claimed to Fratianno that one had nothing to do with the other, Bompensiero would always hold this against Roselli and would freely badmouth him to Fratianno and others.
In July 1966, a local newspaper in El Centro, California reported that Fratianno’s trucking company was working on a freeway project in the Imperial Valley. As rumors of “Mafia control” became lead stories, an investigation was launched and state charges were filed against Fratianno, Bompensiero, and three others for criminal conspiracy. In January 1967, the charges were dropped against Bompensiero, but in the end Fratianno lost his lucrative trucking business.
Sometime in 1967, Bompensiero became an informant for the FBI. His first assignment may have been alerting them to the fact that George Seach was on the mob’s hit list. Johnny Roselli had been indicted in December 1967 on charges of fleecing members of the Beverly Hills Friars Club out of $400,000 in rigged gin-rummy games. Scheduled to testify against Roselli was Seach, a member of the gang, who was granted immunity as a government witness. Roselli asked Fratianno to kill him. Bompensiero and others staked out Seach’s home, but Fratianno was soon notified that the FBI had removed him to Hawaii for safekeeping.
In the early 1970s, Bompensiero cozied up to Anthony “Tony the Ant” Spilotro, the Chicago mob’s new overseer in Las Vegas. Through this friendship, Bompensiero was able to do a little loansharking business in Las Vegas. In November 1975, he helped Spilotro locate and murder San Diego real-estate broker and investor Tamara Rand. Attacked in her home, the wealthy Rand was shot once in the head, once in the back, and three times under the chin once she was on the floor. The murder was carried out by Spilotro after Allen Glick, a mob backed Las Vegas casino owner, complained to Chicago Family representatives that he was being pressured by Rand to make good on a promise he made to her following a $2 million dollar loan.
After Nick Licata died in 1974, Dominic Brooklier took over the Los Angeles Crime Family and things would go from bad to worse for Bompensiero. In 1975, Brooklier put out the word that Bompensiero was to be killed. Bompensiero’s loose lips and his constant bad mouthing of his mob associates, including Fratianno, led to this decision. However, Bompensiero would prove to be an elusive target.
As the months dragged on and Bompensiero was still alive, Louis Tom Dragna, the nephew of Jack and the acting family boss (Brooklier was serving a prison term), came up with a plan to put the San Diego boss at ease and bring him out in the open. They made Bompensiero consigliere of the Los Angeles Mafia Family. In March 1976, Bompensiero met with Louis Dragna and Fratianno in a restaurant to discuss family business and the pornography industry. During this meeting Bompensiero complained about getting rid of the “deadwood” in the family and was twice rebuffed for his comments by Dragna. When he got up to go to the bathroom, Dragna said to Fratianno, “He looks pretty relaxed, don’t you think? This’s working out great.”
One of Bompensiero’s acts as family consigliere was to help make a new member, Michael “Mike Rizzi” Rizzitello. The ceremony clearly indicated how far the Los Angeles Family had sunk. Bompensiero, Fratianno, and Dragna performed the initiation rite in Dragna’s automobile on a dirt road outside of Murrieta - Hot Springs, California. Instead of the traditional knife, gun, and burning saint, all they had was a sewing needle to prick Rizzitello’s finger.
During the March restaurant meeting, a FBI agent, sitting nearby, listened with interest as Fratianno talked about getting into the pornography business. The FBI then set up a dummy company called Forex and had Bompensiero pass the word to Fratianno and his associates. Fratianno, who avoided involvement, received a call not long after this from Rizzitello stating that the men who were running the Forex operation were FBI agents and they had just served him with a subpoena. Fratianno and Rizzitello quickly realized that the tip to get involved in Forex came from Bompensiero. The FBI, by passing on this information to Bompensiero so he could relay it to Fratianno, exposed his position as a government informant and the Weasel was quick to recognize a rat.
Fratianno got Bompensiero on the phone and grilled him about the Forex operation and where he got his information. Bompensiero made up a story about getting the information from a local pornography storeowner and told Fratianno he would check the guy out. When Bompensiero called back two days later he lied to Fratianno saying he had murdered the storeowner. Now the Weasel’s suspicions were confirmed.
As was his habit, Bompensiero would leave his home during the evening to walk to a payphone to place and receive important calls. On February 10, 1977, the seventy-one year old Bompensiero took his last walk. On this night he encountered Los Angeles mob gunman, Thomas Ricciardi, who murdered him. Ricciardi then jumped into a getaway car driven by Giacchino “Jack” LoCicero.
Fratianno would later meet up with Ricciardi and ask him about the murder. “Who was with you?” the Weasel inquired.
“Jack LoCicero. You know, that fucking Bomp, he shit his pants when he saw me with the piece. He tried to give me a tough time,” Ricciardi replied.
“How tough a time can a guy with four slugs in his head give you?” wondered Fratianno.
Jimmy Fratianno eventually became a FBI informant and would later be forced into the Witness Protection Program. He testified at many trials and became a sort of rat celebrity appearing on CBS’s 60 Minutes and on other mob documentaries. In addition, he helped write two books abut his life; The Last Mafioso, with Ovid Demaris, and Vengeance is Mine, with Michael J. Zuckerman.
In February 1978, Fratianno testified before a Los Angeles grand jury to his knowledge of the activities of the crime family and of Bompensiero’s murder. Indictments were then prepared. The U. S. vs. Brooklier, et al., began with jury selection on September 30, 1980. The media pointed out that the trial would be “a real-life La Cosa Nostra vendetta being settled with full public disclosure.”
Tommy Ricciardi had died during open-heart surgery in 1979. Since it was his word to Fratianno that LoCicero had been the driver in the Bompensiero murder, it could not be brought out in court. After a three-week trial, five ranking members of the Los Angeles Family – Brooklier, Dragna, LoCicero, Rizzitello, and Sam Sciortino – were convicted on eleven of twenty-two counts of the indictment. Ironically, they were all acquitted of the Bompensiero murder. In July 1984, Brooklier died in a prison medical center in Tucson, Arizona.
Marie Bompensiero, Frank’s widow, sued the government for carelessly causing the murder of her husband. Fratianno was named in the suit. She was suing him for one million dollars. Fratianno surmised, probably correctly, that San Diego and Los Angeles mobsters were behind the suit to either draw him out in the open or discredit his previous testimony. Both the cases against the FBI and Fratianno were dismissed after three days of testimony.
In June 1993, Fratianno, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, died peacefully in his sleep at the age of seventy-nine.
Copyright A. R. May 2000