This article was last modified on December 20, 2020.

Milwaukee Mafia Profile: Thomas James Sorce

Notes taken from FBI files on Thomas Sorce…

May 8, 1907: Sorce was born as Gaetano Sorce to Serafino Sorce (or Sorci) and Curo D’agostino in Milwaukee. While Sorce is the most common spelling, various family members did use Sorci or Sorcey.

March 20, 1929: Sorce married Rose Sluss in Milwaukee. They divorced June 14 of the same year.

August 5, 1931: Sorce married his second wife, the Minnesota-born Vienna Kulmala, in Milwaukee. She was the daughter of Finnish immigrants and prior to marriage worked as a servant in the household of a warehouse manager in Wauwatosa. At the time of their wedding, they were neighbors — Kulmala lived at 709 55th Avenue in West Allis, while Sorce lived at 710 55th Avenue.

1932: Son Thomas is born. In fact, twins were born, but the female twin died at birth. Thomas was initially named Serafino Thomas Sorce in honor of his grandfather, but in March 1941 the birth certificate was altered to simply Thomas Sorce. Exactly why is unknown — perhaps “Serafino” was not American enough?

1940: The Sorce family lives at 2366 South 81st or 86th Street, West Allis. (The handwriting is bad.) The census says Thomas is a “better” (?) for a “commission.” This is NOT a predominantly Italian neighborhood. His neighbor worked for the US Treasury.

July 8, 1948: Sorce was arrested for assault and battery, but the charges were dismissed. Other than traffic offenses, this was his only arrest.

Between 1954 and 1959, Thomas Sorce told the state tax department that he was “self-employed” in “dice and cards.” His annual income fluctuated between $10,700 and $14,000. (In 2020 dollars, this would be over $100,000 per year, even on the worst year.)

April 1958: Sorce was seen multiple times with Felix “Phil” Valley, business agent for the Hotel and Restaurant Employee union. In fact, during the same years Sorce told the state he was a “dice and cards” man, he told the credit bureau he was a “public relations” employee of the union, earning $5,000 per year.

August 22, 1958: Sorce petitioned the court to have his name legally changed from Gaetano to Thomas.

June 9, 1961: Richard Bucholtz, retired police chief of Waupaca, spoke with Special Agent James Brewster concerning various gambling matters. Bucholtz, before moving to Waupaca, had been the head of the Milwaukee Morals Squad. He told Brewster that he has seen a great deal of gambling at the Waupaca Country Club, but it was all friendly games. The only outsider he knew of was a Tommy Sorce, who came up from Milwaukee. He believed the Sorce was a small-time gambler who primarily operated out of the Casino Club (716 North 5th Street, Milwaukee). In his opinion, Sorce operated “out of his hat” and was not connected to a larger syndicate.

August 4, 1961: Sorce called Claude Lodl’s Oasis Tavern in Two Rivers.

September 18, 1961: Captain Harry Kuszewski and Sergeant Louis Strzyzewski, Milwaukee Vice Squad, spoke with Special Agent Richard Thompson. They said they had heard rumors of Sorce booking, but believed his primary income came from dice games. He was evidently quite good at dice and traveled the country to play, sometimes as far as Montana and Wyoming.

October 5, 1961: The FBI opened their file (162-MW-15) on Thomas Sorce, who they suspect is involved in distributing gambling material over state lines and booking horse races. They were most interested in his telephone, which was listed under the name “Vienna Kulmala” (his wife’s maiden name) with an address of 829 East Manor Circle. This address is a modest home in the Milwaukee suburb of Bayside.

October 9, 1961: An informant tells the FBI that Frank Balistrieri “sets up” Tommy Sorce with gambling games. By this he meant that if Balistrieri catches wind of a big game, he would tell Sorce in exchange for a cut of his winnings.

October 21, 1961: Lodl’s Oasis Tavern was raided by state beverage and cigarette agents. He was fined $300 for operating a gambling place, and a further $50 for having a “bingo type” pinball machine used for gambling. His wife was fined $25 for participating in a lottery, and those present were fined as being inmates of a gambling house. An envelope postmarked April 5, 1960 was found in the raid, bearing the return address of Thomas Sorce. Written on the envelope in pencil was the name “Guy” with Sorce’s phone number alongside. In the envelope was a money order for $50 made out to Thomas Zizzo of 1601 South 76th Street, West Allis.

October 28, 1961: The same informant as October 9 told the FBI that Frank Balistrieri sent Tommy Sorce to Antioch, Illinois where a regular gambling establishment was. The purpose was to convince the Antioch “boys” to back Bill Donahue financially in a Milwaukee gambling setup. (I’m not sure who Bill Donahue was, because this is a common name. A William J Donahue lived 1915-1971 and had an Italian wife, so maybe him?)

November 22, 1961: The FBI reviewed Sorce’s phone records for 1961, and it showed a large volume of calls throughout the country and even to Canada, including to and from many known gamblers. Calls included: James Schiavo’s Continental Cocktail bar (Madison), Walter Jolieri (Green Bay), Harold LaFave (Green Bay — this was his most called number), Jim Gerondale (Monroe), Willie Plant (Wausau), George Robertson (Minneapolis), J.A. Lannon (St. Paul), Francis Leffman (Hibbing, MN), Bart Safarie (Sault Ste Marie, Ontario), Lutheran pastor George D. Arbaugh (Rock Island, IL, formerly of West Allis), Michael Rest (Rochester, MN), Robert Ambach (Green Bay), John Damon (Marshfield), Charles Goldberg (Marinette).

December 3, 1961: The Green Bay Packers played the New York Giants in Milwaukee. Sorce had provided Paul Pappas with tickets to this game. Paul Pappas, along with three brothers, operated Michael’s Supper Club in Rochester, Minnesota. He was known to be a gambler, though his brothers were not. The police chief, James Macken, said Paul’s betting and card playing were “common knowledge.” Agents asked Macken about another phone number called in Rochester, that of Saul Rubin. Macken said Rubin was another big gambler, though he seems to have been “curtailed” since the passing of federal legislation. Rubin was the owner of the Second Street Market in Rochester.

December 8, 1961: Agents ran a check on James Schiavo. Amazingly, he was not in their files other than an allegation that he could get people a draft deferment in exchange for cash. He was noted to be in the tavern business all his life, primarily on East Washington in Madison.

December 18, 1961: As part of checking on phone records, the FBI began looking into Thomas Gregory Sorce (Sorce’s son). The younger Sorce lived in San Anselmo, California and was a sales manager for Andrew Travel. They found previous addresses of his in Berkeley and San Francisco. (I see no evidence that the younger Sorce was involved in ANYTHING and the calls were merely personal.)

December 19, 1961: While running checks on the phone numbers, Special Agent George Ayers found one number went to Roy J. Erickson in Peshtigo. The local police chief (Stewart Jarvis) advised that Erickson was not a “heavy” gambler, but he was a “professional” gambler and would often gamble with other area businessmen at the Owl Club. Jarvis also knew that Erickson was able to get Milwaukee Braves tickets from “an Italian” in Milwaukee. Other members of the Owl Club were Ralph Weber, Milton Zeitler (funeral home owner), and Robert O’Connell of O’Connell Lumber.

December 27, 1961: Agents John O’Connell and James Brewster spoke with Claude Peter Lodl, owner of the Oasis Tavern in Two Rivers. They pointed out to him that during a recent gambling raid, an envelope was found with the name “T. Sorce” written on it. Lodl denied knowing Sorce, and denied ever calling him or receiving calls from him. Lodl said as a result of the raid, he lost his tavern license and the tavern was now licensed to his wife Hazel. He claimed that a man from Manitowoc brought him pool tickets, collected money, and would return with money if there was a winner. Lodl claimed he did not know the man’s name, what car he drove or what he looked like. Since Lodl was raided, the man allegedly just stopped showing up and Lodl did not know how to contact him.

December 29, 1961: Agent Ayers traced another number to Stan and Bud’s Tavern in Shawano. Local police said co-owner Stan Tischer was not known to be a gambler, and in fact wasn’t around much anymore because he also operated the Elwood Inn in New London. Co-owner Clarence “Bud” Haupt, however, was known to be a gambler, though not on a “commercial” basis. Haupt, interestingly enough, had once been loosely connected to the murder of a high-ranking Teamster in 1932. (The murder followed a meeting at Haupt’s tavern, not that Haupt knew anything about the murder, though he may have witnessed a disagreement or altercation.)

December 29: Agent Walker Whaley spoke with Inspector Clifford Buchanan of the Sault Ste Marie (Ontario) police concerning calls made between Sorce and Bert Safarie. Whaley learned that Safarie was really Arduino Ciferri, co-owner of the Royal Cab Company with Bill Chippetta. They had no arrest records but were considered “shady” characters who would do anything for dollar. A card and dice game was believed to be operated on the second floor of the cab company. (Gavin notes: in Geno Francolini’s 2020 obituary, it says “At the age of eight, he sold newspapers; at age nine, he worked at the Royal Cab Company as a dispatcher, where his education in poker and other card games began.” So there might be a story there.) The Canadian police told the FBI that they would start running surveillance and see if anything happens.

January 9, 1962: Sorce’s phone records connected him to car lots in Wausau and Marshfield. One was Crown Motors of Marshfield, owned by Paul Felker, member of a wealthy local family with various diversified business interests. The manager of Crown was John E. Damon, who had been in the used car business since the 1940s, though he was only with Crown a few years. Furthermore, Crown experienced an extensive fire around 1959, causing the previous owner (Bill Wayne of Chicago) to sell to Felker. Damon had joined the firm shortly before the fire and was retained by the new owner. Rumors were that when Wayne owned Crown, the vast majority of sales happened outside of Marshfield at a discount (exactly what this implies I don’t know). The rumors stopped when Felker took over, but “it is believed that new cars are discounted on ‘clean deals’ to purchasers both in and out of Wisconsin.” (I quote at length because I don’t understand this term.)

The FBI was very interested in the car business for some reason. They even looked into the Crown salesmen. Joe Glassner had formerly worked at Badger Fixture Company. Arron Mintz was also a part-time cattle dealer. Gene Binder had previously worked for a different car dealership.

Sorce’s calls also linked to JD Motors, a used car lot in Wausau. It was owned by Charles Elliott and Ralph Mattson, but was formerly owned by John Damon (now of Crown). Chief of Police Norman Zietlow told the FBI he believed Damon was still the real owner, and the other two men were operating it on commission. New door to JD Motors was Jake’s Used Car Lot, owned by Willard Wayne “Willie” Plant (but operated by Jakes Hodes, hence the name). Plant had been a former bootlegger, slot machine dealer and loan shark, and was generally seen as a shady character despite his short arrest record. He made his money less in used cars and more in flipping distressed real estate. Plant had “questionable associates” and would go to any length to make a dollar. He had in the past purchased new Cadillacs and sold them out of state. (Again, not sure what this means… unless the trick here is simply that he was offering his friends cars at the wholesale rate?)

January 15, 1962: Detective Mickey Polcen told Agent Henry Curran he had seen Sorce make a number of pay calls from the Copper Kettle (713 North 5th Street) and believed he was placing bets, but couldn’t substantiate that.

January 18, 1962: The FBI checked phone records in Illinois and found that Sorce had called the following Chicago people: Paul Stimpson, Harry Hull, Steve Pinkus and Hunt & Company, a manufacturer of dice (including, allegedly, crooked dice).

January 24, 1962: An informant was asked about two men Sorce had called in Minneapolis, Harry Goldberg and Jimmy “Punchy” Finelli. The informant said Goldberg was a well-known gambler, but was strictly local. He had operated dice games with Al Scheeler, Butch Lansing, Bud Wilkens, and Jimmy Freeman. As for Finnelli, the source said he had recently invited Sorce to Minneapolis to play a dice game at the Point Supper Club in Golden Valley, which was run by Larry Hork and Armil Grodnick. (Point Supper Club was a jazz venue from 1956 until 1973, when it burned down. There was a lightweight boxer from Hibbing named Punchy Finelli, who is probably the same man.)

January 25, 1962: Agent Geno Fopp spoke with Theodore Vuicich of Great Falls, Montana. Vuicich owned Bimbo’s restaurant in town and also a Bimbo’s Pizza in Marquette, Michigan. His number had come up as being called by Sorce. Vuicich said he grew up in a small Minnesota town and knew a Sorce family there, but no Sorce in Milwaukee. He also denied any gambling beyond small, personal bets. Agent Fopp reported back to Milwaukee that the only interstate gambling he had found in Great Falls was one Ben Stephens at the Falls Hotel, who made bets over the phone to Minneapolis.

February 20, 1962: A phone number traced to Glenn Arthur LeClair of Manitowoc. Agent James Brewster spoke to recently-raided gambler Claude Lodl in Two Rivers. Lodl said LeClair was a desk clerk at the Hotel Manitowoc, and had provided Lodl with parlay tickets. Lodl told Brewster he did not know where Lodl received his parlay tickets or who he laid off his bets with. Lodl now made it clear that LeClair was the man he would previously not name, and LeClair allowed Lodl to keep a 15% commission on all bets made. (LeClair passed in 1990.)

March 5, 1962: Hancock, Michigan police chief Fred Paulson was questioned about calls made between Sorce and Wilho Savela. Paulson said Savela was well-respected and owned a furnace business. He was known as a poker player, but probably wouldn’t travel all the way to Milwaukee just to play poker. That being said, Savela did travel to Milwaukee each year for the Hot Air Heating Convention. Paulson suggested talking to Savela’s son Dwain. Agent Hugh Norton did so, and Dwain explained that his father had met Sorce through Hancock Pontiac dealer Michael Sittler, who had since passed. Sittler was another big poker player. Dwain said there was actually a photograph in his father’s house of Sittler, Sorce, his father and a few other men. Sorce had provided Packer tickets for the Savela family in 1961, and when they arrived in Green Bay for the game, Sorce wasn’t there. On another occasion, Sorce randomly stopped by and Savela wasn’t home, so he continued on to Iron Mountain to visit his wife’s family, where he had dropped off his wife. (Hancock and Iron Mountain are over 100 miles away… pretty random to drive that far unexpectedly.)

Also on March 5, Jack Foster (chief security officer at Calumet & Hecla) said he was very active at the Elks Lodge in Calumet. Foster said he did not know Savela or Sorce, but knew a regular poker game occurred at the Elks Lodge, and on one occasion an outsider was brought in, and the members complained. He couldn’t say if this was Sorce or not. Houghton County Sheriff Raymond Smith said he was an Elk in Hancock and would occasionally go to the Calumet lodge. Smith said Savela had a reputation as a gambler, particularly with poker. He said this wasn’t unusual — poker games were common at the Calumet lodge, the Hancock lodge, and any other lodge he had visited.

March 20, 1962: A phone number was traced to W.J. Burkett of Fort Worth, Texas, owner of the Idle Hour Club. An informant identified Burkett as a gambler, but did not know of any interstate communication.

March 30, 1962: An informant told Agent John Gassaway that Sorce had “several bettors” in Mankato, Minnesota. The bets were not mad over the phone — Sorce drove to Mankato twice a month to collect the bets.

April 4, 1962: Another number was traced to Robert L. Ambach of Green Bay. He was a mill worker for Fort Howard Paper Company. The local police said his only violations were traffic-related. The sheriff was more familiar, and said Ambach was a known poker player. His officers had observed the cars of Green Bay businessmen at his residence in the past for what were believed to be poker games. The sheriff knew who Tom Sorce was and said he was possibly at one of these poker games. It was further pointed out (for whatever reason) that Ambach’s brother Austin Ambach was an employee at the post office.

April 17, 1962: Agent George Ayers spoke with Charles Goldberg, owner of Goldberg Clothing in Marinette (who had been called by Sorce). Goldberg said he met Sorce in Milwaukee, probably at the Casino Club, when he was having dinner. They were introduced by a mutual friend, but he no longer recalled who it was. Goldberg said he never gambled with Sorce but had heard that he was a heavy card and craps player. Goldberg was a director of the Green Bay Packers and said Sorce would call him on occasion to get tickets. They did not know each other on a personal level, so Goldberg had little more to add. A check of Goldberg’s phone records indicated he not only knew Sorce, but also Milwaukee gambler Joseph Piscuine and Two Rivers gambler Claude Lodl.

April 23, 1962: An informant advised the FBI that Sorce was presently in Minnesota because his wife was at the Rochester hospital. The source did not believe the ailment was anything serious.

June 4, 1962: Captain CD Alexander (a National Academy graduate) of Mankato informed the FBI he knew nothing of Sorce or any out-of-state gamblers. However, it was no secret that wealthy Mankato businessmen would play poker for amounts in the hundreds of dollars at the South View Country Club, Elks Lodge, and Mankato Golf Club. Four other officers were questioned and gave similar answers.

June 12, 1962: Agents spoke with Carl Stahl, owner of the Hunt and Company in Chicago. Stahl said the vast majority of his card and dice business was with Nevada. His records indicated only one purchase by Tom Sorce, and that was six decks of “bridge sized” plastic playing cards. Stahl said that using this deck to cheat was unlikely, because plastic was hard to mark. Furthermore, the exact same brand was sold in Milwaukee department stores, so there was nothing special about the ones available from Hunt.

July 20, 1962: Agent Richard Mahler spoke with George Robertson of Mankato. Robertson said he was a traveling salesman in Southern Minnesota for the Kash Toy Company, which is based in Milwaukee. He occasionally ate at Michael’s Supper Club, and through the owners (the Pappas brothers) became acquainted with Sorce. Robertson found Sorce to be “congenial” and was told he ran a restaurant on North Fifth Street in Milwaukee — Robertson had to visit Milwaukee occasionally for business. Since their first meeting, Robertson had contacted Sorce several times in Milwaukee for the purpose of getting Milwaukee Braves tickets. Robertson said he played poker at the Kahler Hotel in Rochester on occasion, and Sorce had been there, along with the Pappas brothers, Kaplan brothers and Rubin brothers (Saul and ??). The games were always small stakes and friendly. Robertson believed that Sorce would stop in Mankato or Rochester because his in-laws lived in Hibbing, Minnesota.

August 1, 1962: An informant told the FBI that Sorce was financially backed by Frank Balistrieri, Steve DiSalvo, Joe Gurera and Buster Balestrere, and gave them a cut of his winnings.

August 17, 1962: A source claimed Sorce was booking horse races and baseball, but did not know where or his phone number.

August 23, 1962: An informant said a new crap game was in town at 1226 North Milwaukee Street. Games would happen Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights around 11pm with Harry DeAngelo and Mike Albano running the show. The same source said the games were funded by Thomas Sorce and Walter “Wally” Percente, who were backed by Frank Balistrieri. Sorce and Percente were also allegedly booking partners. (This address today is the Jefferson Court apartment complex… I presume the houses were torn down.)

September 28, 1962: The Milwaukee FBI sent a summary memo to headquarters on Sorce, wondering whether he could be prosecuted. The crime would be “interstate transportation in aid of racketeering — gambling,” with the idea that Sorce traveled to other states to gamble. They were of the opinion this was possible if the evidence showed the games rose to the level of serious income and not just casual play. (Personally, I find the whole thing to be a stretch. The FBI cracked down hard on gambling in the early 60s, but to go after a guy with this much effort because he plays poker seems like a major waste of resources.)

October 12, 1962: A source said Sorce was booking out of Plotkin’s Clock Tavern on North Fifth Street.

November 24, 1962: The Milwaukee office decided to close its active case on Sorce, but maintain updates. They were of the opinion it would be harder to prosecute him if he was not the organizer of out-of-state games, but merely a player.

February 1, 1963: The Milwaukee office reversed course, and decided to re-open the Sorce file based on new information from an informant. This information was that Sorce was “a runner” for the gamblers in Milwaukee and made collections and payoffs in St. Paul and Mankato. (While yes, this would be an interstate violation, it strikes me as very odd that Minnesota residents would gamble with Milwaukee bookies.)

April 13, 1971: Sorce died in Milwaukee, age 63.

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

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