This article was last modified on November 14, 2018.


The Piscuine Brothers

These are my notes on the three gambling Piscuine brothers: John, Joseph and Charles. Worth noting, their sister Josephine was the mother of Sally Papia.

John Piscuine was arrested June 22, 1934 in Waterloo, Iowa for passing counterfeit money. Along with him were Phillip Schmidt and Mickey McGuire of Milwaukee. At the time of their arrest, no counterfeit money was found on them. Piscuine is turned over to the Omaha Secret Service the next day. Tried, convicted and sentenced to 1 year and 1 day in federal prison. Sentence begins in November 1934 at El Reno, Oklahoma, and in January 1935 he is transferred to the prison hospital in Springfield, Missouri.

John Piscuine was arrested for gambling on January 31, 1941. The charges were dropped on February 20.

The Ogden Social Club, Incorporated was registered with the secretary of state on February 19, 1941. The office address was 629 East Ogden. Wanda Gagliano (1519 North Jackson) was elected president. Michael Scalici (522 East Pleasant, brother-in-law of gambler Joseph Piscuine) was elected vice president. Rosario Gagliano, Wanda’s husband, was elected secretary and treasurer. Directors were Rosario Gagliano, Martin Gagliano (1513 North Jackson) and John Picciani (518 East Lyon). These people, with Rosario Picciuro (1421 North Van Buren) replacing Picciani, signed the articles of incorporation in front of Mario A. Megna, Jr. as witness. The club’s charter said that its purpose was to “foster and promote the best interest and welfare of its members socially and economically, and to foster sports amongst its members.” Membership was open to any “adult person of good and moral character”.

On May 6, 1945, Judge Kleczka gave out an order allowing police to “peek” in the Ogden Social Club, meaning that they could walk through without a warrant. The judge felt with repeated gambling raids, and with only Joseph Piscuine admitting to being an officer (he was president), it was a reasonable action to keep the club away from illegal activities.

The “floating” Ogden Social Club was raided at 5:10pm on July 11, 1945 when it was at 1442 North Jackson Street. Eight vice squad officers, including Sergeants Erich Schmidt and Norman Duemling were involved, and found a partition connecting 1442 to 1446, where more gambling was located. A previous injunction allowed police to inspect 1446 at any time, so the gamblers circumvented this by blocking the entrance and re-routing people through the adjoining building. They also found a croupier’s stick, a dice field, several decks of cards, horse race betting sheets, three telephones, loud speaker and a billiard table that could be converted to a dice table. Some of the items were hidden inside an oven. The building was then padlocked by police. Dominic Picciurro was fined $200 for keeping a gambling house (he was not their at the time of the raid, but lived upstairs). Philip M. Azzolina, Peter Fucarino, Robert Puccio, Russell Frank Cramer, William Deakin, Robert Lionel Page, and Carmello Valenti were charged as patrons. Rosario Gagliano, Peter Frank Balistrieri, John B. Triliegi, Joseph Piscuine, James G. Bruno and Thomas Puccio (said to be the “doorman”) would face contempt of court charges, but they were dismissed. Judge Kleczka threatened to jail him if any evidence came up that they were involved in gambling, saying, “If you defy the law you will be punished. If you think you are greater than the state of Wisconsin, you are mistaken.” The cases were continued to August 14.

The “floating” Ogden Social Club was raided for the ninth time on Tuesday, June 3, 1947 at 3:15am… this time at 1500 North Jefferson Street. Police used battering rams to simultaneously knock in four doors, all of which were reinforced with steel strips and plywood. Sergeant Harry Kuszewski of the vice squad said the doors were so well guarded that in the first few attempts to knock them in, the ram “just bounced off like a rubber ball.” A dice table, poker table and two telephones were confiscated. Seven men were arrested — six for being inmates of a gambling house and one (Charles Piscuine, 30, of 514 East Lyon) for being the keeper of a gambling house. The six men were: Rosario Gagliano, Martin Azzolina, Dominic Picciurro, Giovanni L. Taglialovora, Carmello Valenti and Frank DeFacende. Gagliano was fined $15.

On February 5, 1960, at about 1:30am, Martha Artis, an entertainer working at the Lamp Post Bar located at 440 West Michigan Street, owned and operated by Charles Piscuine, was arrested by two officers for a violation of sec. 90-25. Miss Artis was an entertainer in the bar, her work consisting of singing songs and playing the piano for the patrons. After she had finished entertaining for the evening and was in the process of leaving the premises, she stopped at the bar at the request of a gentleman (an out-of-town district attorney) and was given a drink. The ordinance expressly prohibits female entertainers from standing or sitting at a bar and contains other prohibitions not involved here. At the time of the alleged violation, Charles Piscuine was not on the premises.

From May 7 through May 12, 1961, gambler John Piscuine was in contact with “Lefty” Feole. Feole was originally from Trenton, New Jersey but moved with his family to Grand Rapids, Michigan and had his own trucking business.

On February 23, 1962, the FBI instructed its Milwaukee office not to place a bet at the Lamp Post Bar. The US Attorney (Brennan) had suggested having an agent make a bet there to try and get gambling information on bartender John Piscuine, but the FBI (headquarters) said there was no evidence of a federal violation, even if a bet was placed.

On March 21, 1962, Lamp Post Bar (440 West Michigan Street) owner Charles Piscuine, bartender John Piscuine (his brother), and singer Julia Davis were arrested. Davis was seen sitting at the bar and taking a drink. Under Milwaukee city ordinance, it was illegal for a singer to drink alongside customers.

At 3:00pm on April 27, 1962, Charles Piscuine was observed bringing laundry into Unity Cleaners (a front for gambling).

Agents Thompson and Knickrehm interviewed John Piscuine on July 26, 1962 at Doctors Park in Fox Point. He was asked if he was approached by anyone in organized crime to make payoffs. he said no, and did not know why he would be. The agents informed him there was a rumor going around that bookies were being forced to pay the Syndicate. Piscuine said that his friends in the Milwaukee Police Department had already told him this rumor, but he was not booking and had never been a bookie, so it did not apply to him. He said his only income was from tending bar at the Lamp Post, and his wife Wally was a cashier at the Port Silver Diner. He said they were struggling because the tavern business was not going well and he had to mortgage his house to help his brother pay for the tavern.

On Saturday, May 4, 1963, twelve IRS agents led by Paul Pheaume raided Charles Piscuine’s residence at 1517 North VanBuren. Piscuine tried to run into the basement, but was stopped. While there, seven phone calls came in to place bets, including from brother Joseph Piscuine and Martin Azzolina. Piscuine’s attorneys, Dominic Frinzi and James Shellow, declined to comment.

On August 22, 1963, gambler Charles Piscuine paid police detective August Knueppel $200 for inside information about when he might get raided.

Following the murders of JFK and Oswald in November 1963, Milwaukee agents wanted to know more about Jack Ruby. They used this opportunity to speak with known gamblers: John Piscuine, Charles Piscuine, Bobby Pick, and David Kohler. They also spoke with mob associate Anthony Bruno, fraudulent financier Harry Kaminsky and Don Christensen (unknown to me). In Kenosha, a man named George Mehoves from the Conservation Club was interviewed whom I know nothing about. All of these men are categorized in the files as “potential criminal informants”. It is unclear if any of them (besides Kohler) ever made it beyond that point.

On Thursday, March 5, 1964, the IRS made simultaneous raids in New York, Los Angeles and Milwaukee. In Milwaukee they arrested five men for failure to purchase a gambling stamp: Steve Halmo, Robert Pick, Charles Piscuine, Joseph Reder and Harvey Wachs. Also arrested for aiding and abetting was Alfred Prey. At Halmo’s apartment, agents seized $1674 and various gambling information. At the Pick home, Pick told the agents he had to tie up his dog and then quickly ran inside to cut two of his four telephone lines and ignited some flash paper that contained gambling records. Prey showed up at Pick’s home during the raid and got in a scuffle with an agent on the porch. Piscuine’s home had $570, various gambling sheets and three pink telephones. An agent answered a phone while there and took $1300 in bets from the caller — when asked if he was talking to Charlie, the agent (whose name was Charles) said yes.

On Wednesday, March 18, 1964, Judge Coffey’s John Doe probe issued warrants for thirteen people: Charles Piscuine (commercial gambling), Raymond Mirr (commercial gambling), Archie Lewis (commercial gambling), Raymond Hobart (commercial gambling), Harry Edison aka Earl Appelt (commercial gambling), William Wisniewski (commercial gambling), Bernard Karrer (commercial gambling), Frank DeFacende (commercial gambling), Mike Palmisano (commercial gambling), Dorothy Byrd (false swearing), Mary Johnson (keeping a house of prostitution), Marilyn Donald aka Billie Morris (keeping a house of prostitution), William “Thunderbird Bill” Davis (pimping).

On Friday, March 20, 1964, Judge Coffey closed his John Doe probe after 21 months. The final seven people to be charged were: Clarence Smith (commercial gambling), Martin Azzolina (commercial gambling), Steve Halmo (commercial gambling and false swearing), Morris Fuhrmann (setting up pinball machines for gambling), James Stecher (setting up pinball machines for gambling), John Piscuine (accepting bets), Anthony “Sheriff” Cefalu (accepting bets).

On May 11, 1964, Dominic Frinzi filed a motion to dismiss charges against six men for failure to purchase a gambling stamp, citing insufficient evidence: Steve Halmo, Robert Pick, Charles Piscuine, Joseph Reder, Harvey Wachs and Alfred Prey.

On September 29, 1964, a man named “Little Frank” requested his commission from Walter Brocca. The man was apparently bookmaking on Brocca’s behalf. The Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigation believed that “Little Frank” was actually Pasquale Scalici, a midget clown who performed under the name Frank Little, and ran a newsstand at the corner of 3rd and Wisconsin when not a clown. Scalici lived with his sister Josephine, who was married to Joseph Piscuine.

Gambler Charlie Piscuine died on May 7, 1969 at age 52. His funeral was on May 9, 1969 at the Guardalabene and Amato Funeral Home. Many Kenosha and Milwaukee people attended the wake, but no one from Madison did. His death was a complete shock, as he had been scheduled to be married the following week.

John Piscuine was interviewed at the Towne Room Restaurant (723 North 3rd) on October 6, 1970 concerning the Machi brothers. Piscuine said he knew the Machi family and that Tony was a frequent visitor at his restaurant, and Tom had been there once. He had heard rumors that the Machis were gamblers, but had not personally made any bets with them. He said he had known Tony Machi for many years, but would not consider him a personal friend. He said the Machis may have called the restaurant to make reservations, but not to gamble, and he was not aware of them being in the restaurant for gambling purposes — only for eating dinner.

A party for Phil Valley was held at the Centre Stage Dinner Playhouse on the evening of April 25, 1976, beginning at 6:30pm. This was to commemorate Valley’s retirement from the Bartenders Union and also his 80th birthday. Over 500 people were expected to attend, including mobsters from Canada, Chicago, St. Louis, Brooklyn, Kansas City and San Francisco. How many hoods actually attended is unknown, though union officials from throughout the country — including the head of the Bartenders Union from Washington, DC — were present. A Chicago union man named “Paulsen” was there. Joseph P. Caminiti, Frank Balistrieri, August Palmisano, Frank Buccieri, Peter Balistrieri and Benny DiSalvo were seen. So were Jimmy Jennaro, Harry DeAngelo, Sam Librizzi, Eddie Maniaci, Walter Brocca, Angelo DiGeorgio, Andy Machi, Tom Guernieri, Russel Enea, “Camels” Lavora, Carl Dentice, John Piscuine, Arty Maniaci, Tom DeStefano, Tony “Petrolle” Machi, Tommy Ferrara, Tony Fazio, Angelo Fazio and Joe Sardino. Steve DiSalvo and his son Rick greeted people as they arrived, and Joseph Balistrieri served as master of ceremonies for the event. Sally Papia and her staff catered the event, with a rumor going around that she was planning to purchase Frenchy’s. One of the owners of Towne Realty (redacted, maybe Joseph Zilber) had a large table of guests. The union men from out of town stayed at the Milwaukee Inn.

In a telephone conversation between John Piscuine and Sam Librizzi on October 25, 1979, Piscuine protested his inability to reach Librizzi to place some wagers. At one point Piscuine stated, “I tried to get a hold of you. Dennis wasn’t there.”

On October 1, 1981, a federal grand jury hands out numerous indictments. Frank, Joseph and John Balistrieri on extortion, fraud, and tax charges. A separate indictment came down against John Balistrieri and Thomas J. Cannizzaro for mail and insurance fraud. Among other things, Joseph and John were said to have “unlawfully seized control of Alioto Distributing from one Connie Alioto, the lawful owner of Alioto Distributing, by fraudulent misrepresentations and extortionist threats.” John was alleged to have altered Alioto’s books and made fabrications. Charged with multiple violations of gambling laws: Steve DiSalvo, Peter Frank Picciurro, Salvatore Anthony Librizzi, Dennis Librizzi, Carl Micelli, John Piscuine, and Eugene Kawczynski. Charged with single counts of violating gambling laws: Joseph Volpe, Richard Panella, George Kopulos.

On September 7, 1983, FBI agents began their testimony in the trial of Frank Balistrieri, Salvatore Librizzi, Dennis Librizzi, Steve DiSalvo, Peter Picciurro, Carl Micelli, and John Piscuine. Defense attorney Stephen Glynn, representing Sam Librizzi, took a bold approach. He said, “Number one: Sam Librizzi is a bookmaker.. (But) this is not a gambling case. The gambling in this case is by the government.” Defense attorney John Tucker, representing Frank Balistrieri, noted that of the 550 taped conversations the government made, not a single one was a recording of Balistrieri. He said Balistrieri was not the boss but that “the buck stopped with Sam Librizzi.”

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

One Response to “The Piscuine Brothers”

  1. Drew Hunkins Says:

    “How many hoods actually attended is unknown, though union officials from throughout the country — including the head of the Bartenders Union from Washington, DC — were present. A Chicago union man named “Paulsen” was there. Joseph P. Caminiti, Frank Balistrieri, August Palmisano, Frank Buccieri, Peter Balistrieri and Benny DiSalvo were seen. So were Jimmy Jennaro, Harry DeAngelo, Sam Librizzi, Eddie Maniaci, Walter Brocca, Angelo DiGeorgio, Andy Machi, Tom Guernieri, Russel Enea, “Camels” Lavora, Carl Dentice, John Piscuine, Arty Maniaci, Tom DeStefano, Tony “Petrolle” Machi, Tommy Ferrara, Tony Fazio, Angelo Fazio and Joe Sardino. Steve DiSalvo and his son Rick greeted people as they arrived, and Joseph Balistrieri served as master of ceremonies for the event. Sally Papia and her staff catered the event.”

    Good lord Gavin, this is a who’s who of the Milw area “family.”

Leave a Reply