This article was last modified on October 23, 2018.

Capone’s Brothels: A History of Hurley

December 7, 1954: William Mattrella and Pete Piazza were indicted for Mann Act violations. They pleaded not guilty and were released on $3,500 bond each.

An FBI agent was present at Anton Lysczyk’s place of business (Kay’s Rooms and Hotel Bar, 7-9 Silver Street) on September 15, 1965 and was approached by a lady who offered her services as a prostitute. This occurred in the presence of Lysczyk. His business partner, Marcia “Kay” Lyon, later told authorities that she started the prostitution business in 1959 and had issued 2,797 admittance cards by November 1965.

An FBI agent spoke to Lysczyk and Lyon at their place of business on December 14, 1965, twelve days after the indictment was returned. He told them he was there on another matter and warned both of them that they should not speak to him about the matter for which they were indicted.

On August 17, 1966, John “Blackie” Ravanelli (proprietor of the French Casino) was arrested on a charge of pandering. He was later found guilty and fined $200.

On October 28, 1969, James Vitich (new owner of the French Casino) began renting the Old Ritz Tavern, which was next door to the French Casino. Less than two months later, he returned the keys and said it was not working out.

On November 22, 1969, the FBI tracked two white women from the French Casino in Hurley to Milwaukee. Because their route crossed over into Ironwood, the FBI thought an interstate charge might be possible. The women took a Checker Cab in Hurley to a Greyhound bus in Ironwood.

On December 11, 1969, Sheriff John Gentile picked up a woman at the French Casino. She denied any knowledge of prostitution, but Gentile ordered her to stay in a motel and be out of town in the morning.

On January 28, 1970 Sheriff John Gentile told the FBI he had recently seen a woman in Hurley that he had kicked out in December. He expressed his frustration that the current chief of police (Albert Stella?) was not doing anything and hoped things would change when he retired in four or five months.

On February 29, 1970, at 1:00 in the morning, FBI agents were running surveillance on the French Casino when they saw a red Pontiac parked behind the building.

On May 14, 1970, FBI agents were in Spread Eagle, Wisconsin interviewing a former prostitute. She said that while working at the French Casino, a “trick” would earn her $10 and up, but he never made as much as $200 per week. She said business in general was not good, and James Vitich drank too much which cut into the profits. The second season she worked at the French Casino, her driver from Green Bay to Hurley was Buddy Howell. When questioned about the French Casino’s management, she said it was all James Vitich. His wife Ellen cooked and cleaned, but had nothing to do with the brothel business. Ellen’s brother George “Huck” Mickelson helped out from time to time, but only with odd jobs and not in the brothel. After leaving the French Casino the second time, she worked at Club 13 in Hurley, and turned her money over to a man named “Frenchie”. Living in the Club were Buddy Howell and John “Blackie” Ravanelli.

Two FBI agents interviewed James Vitich on June 4, 1970. He claimed to have “no connection” to the operation of the French Casino, despite living there and being the owner. Vitich said he was on parole from Waupun State Prison and would not admit to any state crimes, and claimed to not be guilty of any federal crimes. The agents asked if they could interview the women living upstairs and Vitich said no. The agents said the women could decide for themselves. Vitich then went upstairs, came back down and said the women did not wish to talk.

On October 20, 1970, the James Vitich case was discussed with US Attorney John Olson. He advised that if the best evidence the FBI had was that two women crossed state lines to board a bus, it was not a good case. They would have to prove that Vitich had them travel in this way, or paid for the travel.

On November 13, 1970, FBI agents interviewed a dancer at Taycheedah, Wisconsin. She conceded she had been a go-go dancer at the French Casino in Hurley but never “turned a trick”. She claimed that James Vitich never asked her to be a prostitute, and the worst thing she did was “hustle drinks”.

On November 23, 1971, American Linen Supply Company delivered from Duluth a supply of sheets, towels, and linens to the Club 13 and the French Casino, owned by James and Ellen Vitich. This simple transaction was the basis for a federal indictment: those linens were traveling interstate and were used for the purpose of prostitution. The women staying at the Vitich clubs split prostitution money 50-50 with their hosts, as well as paying $5 each day for room and board.

On April 12, 1973, Judge James Doyle made a decision following the appeal of the Vitich case. They argued that the linens used in their business was no unimportant that it did not constitute a part of the crime. Doyle disagreed, reasoning, “I think it clear that, for example, had the defendants purchased eggs in Michigan for the prostitutes’ breakfast, such purchases would have played a role in the prostitution business of very small significance. On the other hand, extensive use of the mails to solicit customers for the prostitutes would be of considerable significance. I have concluded that the interstate activity in this case falls closer to the example involving use of the mails than to that involving the purchase of foreign eggs. The out-of-state laundry furnished to the defendants sheets and towels which the prostitutes used in the rooms where they entertained their customers. The linens are intimately connected with the prostitution business in a way that food for the prostitutes to eat is not.”

John J. Gasbarri died on November 24, 1975.

In 1976, at Raineri’s request, Cira Gasbarri returned from California to reopen the Showbar, which her husband had operated as a prostitution enterprise before his death in November 1975. From late 1976 until early 1979, Raineri managed the Showbar in conjunction with Gasbarri. He gave her fifty dollars for every night she worked at the Showbar. At his urging Gasbarri permitted prostitution in the Showbar.

1977, Alex Raineri became the judge of Iron County.

In June 1978, when Patricia Colossaco told Raineri about the prostitution, he replied that she had nothing to worry about.

On August 23, 1978, Raineri signed a check to Yvonne Spears, who worked as a bartender, dancer and prostitute for the Showbar. She cashed her check in Michigan. On September 12, 1978, check was drawn on the Showbar’s Michigan bank account and used in Wisconsin to pay the Lake Superior Power Company, a Wisconsin business, for power at the Showbar. These checks were later used by the FBI to show the interstate nature of the prostitution business.

Raineri traveled to and from Reno, Nevada, with Cira Gasbarri in September and October 1978

During the period when Raineri promoted prostitution at the Showbar, dancers employed by the bar would go to booths in the bar and masturbate those customers who spent thirty-five or fifty dollars for a three dollar bottle of champagne. During the same period, the dancer/prostitutes would make arrangements in the bar for the sale of their sexual favors to customers of the bar. Prostitutes would either put a share of their receipts into a box in the ladies’ dressing room or give it to the bartender. Above the bar there were about twenty rooms with beds used for prostitution. The rooms were supplied with sheets, pillowcases, and electricity. Illegal prostitution permeated the Showbar.

When Wisconsin Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement Division agents made a routine inspection of the Showbar in March 1979, Raineri spoke to them over the phone, represented himself as the janitor, yelled at them, harassed them, and told them they would not get very far with any prosecution in the county.

At some point in 1979, the Showbar burned down.

Gasbarri had been hospitalized at the Hope Community Mental Health Center from December 6, 1979 to December 21, 1979; at the time of her hospitalization, her diagnosis had been psychotic depression reaction transient situational disturbance; during her hospitalization, her treatment consisted of individual and group therapy and 200 mg. of Mellaril every hour for nine days; her prognosis was good.

On March 18, 1980, before the grand jury, Raineri stated: that he and his wife were like brother and sister to Gasbarri and her husband; that after the death of Gasbarri’s husband, Raineri’s relationship with Gasbarri remained the same, that Raineri and Gasbarri did not have an affair and did not travel together alone except for one time when he took her to the hospital in Duluth, and once or twice when he took her to Milwaukee to shop when he was driving there to sit in criminal court.

On June 6, 1980, a federal grand jury in Madison indicted Raineri with promoting prostitution, obstructing justice and lying to the grand jury. Following the indictment, the Milwaukee Sentinel called Raineri and he told them, “They’ve been accusing me of running the Showbar, and I’ve always told them… I had no connection with the place whatsoever.”

Also on June 6, the Judicial Commission of Wisconsin filed a complaint with the court alleging that the Hon. Alex J. Raineri, circuit judge for Iron county, had engaged in misconduct by reason of his having acted as presiding judge in a traffic violation case in which the defendant (Joseph J. Suzik, owner of the Starlite Motel and Bar) was married to the sister of Judge Raineri’s wife. The complaint alleged that after the defendant had entered a plea of guilty to a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, Judge Raineri vacated the original sentence. The defendant then entered a plea of not guilty, and trial was held before Judge Raineri, who found the defendant guilty.

On July 31, 1980, the Judicial Commission filed an amended complaint in the matter, adding a charge that Judge Raineri dismissed a traffic citation pending against a Michigan state police officer in exchange for having a traffic citation pending against the judge in Michigan dismissed.

On March 6, 1981, the federal district court ordered that Judge Raineri be fined $15,000 and committed to
imprisonment for three years.

Cira Gasbarri died in Los Angeles on February 18, 1987 at age 51.

Also try another article under Organized Crime
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

One Response to “Capone’s Brothels: A History of Hurley”

  1. Drew Hunkins Says:

    Absolutely fascinating.

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