Mike Rizzi: Gallo Gangster in LA

Michael “Mike Rizzi” Rizzitello

Like many members of the Los Angeles crime family, Michael Anthony Rizzitello, aka Mike Rizzi, was not from California. In fact, Rizzitello was not actually from the United States at all, having originally come from Quebec, before moving to New York. He was born in Montreal, on the 29th of March likely in 1929. At times, the exact date of his birth is unclear as some sources list 1927 while others seemingly claim that it was 1928. The Forest Lawn Memorial-Parks organisation has March 15th, 1929 on Rizzitello’s gravestone and it appears that 1929 is the correct year, overall.

Mike Rizzi’s start in organised crime came with his association and later, his reputed induction, with the Gallo gang, known for their role as the notorious Profaci rebel faction under the Gallo brothers, Lawrence (Larry), Joseph (Crazy Joe) and Albert (Kid Blast). His association with the gang was throughout the 1950s, despite a move to California in 1956, to the early 1960s. In 1960, according to Aladena James “Jimmy the Weasel” Fratianno, who Rizzitello later became close with, Mike Rizzi was made with the Gallos – though it didn’t mean much, as they were not sanctioned and thus, any inductions by their hand were not valid, meaning that Rizzitello later had to be made into the Los Angeles family.

Primarily serving as an enforcer, Rizzitello and unnamed second gunman (possibly Salvatore Mangiameli), were the alleged shooters in a November 11th, 1961 double murder attributed to the Profaci-Gallo struggle. Giovanni “John” Guariglia and Paul Ricci, both allegedly made members of the Profaci/Colombo family were killed inside Ricci’s bar, The Hi Fi Lounge, with another future LA family member Thomas “Tommy” Ricciardi reportedly getting wounded in the process. He had been shot twice in the leg.

Thomas Ricciardi

That same November, Crazy Joe was convicted of extortion and in December was sentenced, which no doubt left Rizzitello in an awkward position. While the war would rage on for a while more, it would do so without Mike Rizzi, who by 1962, was back in California, though he was not a free man for much longer. Prior to his incarceration, Rizzitello was associated with Salvatore Louis “Dago Louie” Piscopo, a member of the Los Angeles family and with Joseph “JS” Sica, a long-time associate of Meyer “Mickey” Cohen.

Following an arrest by the LAPD, he served 9 years on robbery and kidnapping charges. In prison, Rizzitello allegedly rubbed shoulders with members of the Mexican Mafia, including Joseph “Pegleg” Morgan while also becoming acquainted with William Heldman, later known as William Carroll, of Mustang Club fame.

Joseph “Pegleg” Morgan, La eMe heavyweight

Released from California State Prison sometime in 1971, Rizzitello next became associated with Dominic “Jimmy Regace” Brooklier (Domenico Brucceleri) and Peter “Pete” Milano, according to Jimmy Fratianno in The Last Mafioso, who, along with John “Handsome Johnny” Roselli (Filippo Sacco), scoffed at the misuse of a ‘useful’ prospect like Mike Rizzi:

“They’re not going to make him”, “They wouldn’t know what to do with a real worker”
– John Roselli on Rizzitello’s association with Brooklier and Milano, per The Last Mafioso

While still officially an associate, Rizzitello had formed a crew of sorts that was mainly comprised of Louis “Lefty” Castiglione and Robert “Fat Bobby” Paduano, both of New York. Castiglione was also previously associated with the Profaci family in New York and had also worked with Rizzitello during his time with Dago Louie, while Paduano, a connected criminal and narcotics dealer, had ties to Pete Milano.

L to R: Robert Paduano, Louis Castiglione and Salvatore L. Piscopo

Regardless, Mike’s association with Pete Milano and Brooklier seemingly wasn’t meant to be, according to The Last Mafioso. In August of 1975, while sitting in a pizzeria owned by San Francisco mob associate, Salvatore “Sal” Amarena, Rizzitello informed Fratianno that he had been responsible for the murder of Bernard Gusoff – the business partner of Jacob “Jack” Molinas, a disgraced basketball player turned pornographer. Molinas had paid Mike Rizzi 50 thousand dollars for the murder, while collecting 500 thousand on a life insurance policy that Gusoff held, money that Fratianno had been intending to extort. From then on, The Weasel and Mike Rizzi began “working closely together” as “Rizzi was a man after Jimmy’s heart.” 

Regarding the Molinas murder, while there does exist some speculation amid other rumours of the former Detroit Pistons player (then called the Fort Wayne Pistons) having connections to organised crime, with Genovese mobster Thomas “Tommy Ryan” Eboli in particular, the true motive behind his death is unclear. The reputed gunman, one Eugene Connor, was seemingly not connected to the LA family which indicates that Dominic Brooklier’s new borgata likely did not have any hand in the shooting.  

Rizzitello remained active in traditional mob rackets (loansharking, extortion and gambling) while attending meetings with Fratianno in California, including an audience with famed Outfit attorney Sidney “Sid” Korshak. The meeting with Korshak was over a “beef” concerning Andy Anderson, a high-ranking Outfit-connected Teamster official and Rudy Tham, a San Francisco-based Teamster with ties to the West Coast families. During this encounter, Rizzitello was described by Fratianno as his man in Los Angeles, indicating that they were close. Further related to the Teamster beef, Rizzitello attended a meeting held in a Chicago restaurant with many Outfit heavyweights present, including: Joseph “Lumpy” Lombardo, Joseph “Joey Doves” Aiuppa, John “Jackie the Lackey” Cerone and legendary Outfit gangster, Anthony “Joe Batters” Accardo.

While Fratianno took care to introduce Mike Rizzi as a “friend of mine”, indicating his status as an associate, Aiuppa introduced Rizzitello as amico nostra to Accardo, who had arrived later. Fratianno ordered Rizzitello to the bar and explained the “situation” to the Outfit mobsters – Cerone was angered that Rizzitello had even met with Anthony “The Ant” Spilotro (Korshak related) but Aiuppa managed to calm him and Rizzitello was allowed back to the table.

L to R: John Cerone, Aladena J. Fratianno, Joseph Lombardo, Joseph Aiuppa and Anthony Accardo

The situation referenced is that Rizzitello was in fact a proposed member of the Los Angeles family, possibly on the part of Dago Louie Piscopo, who was close with both him and Fratianno. However, despite his position of acting underboss and acting co-boss (a position shared with Louis “Louie” Dragna), it would take a second meeting in New York for Jimmy the Weasel to finally get Mike Rizzi his membership in the LA family. While dining with Anthony “Tony Shots” Abbatemarco, a Colombo underboss and Alphonse “Allie Boy” Persico, brother to Carmine and then consigliere, Jimmy was questioned about Rizzitello and his status with the Los Angeles crime family.

Fratianno claims that Rizzitello was proposed by him, in contrast to what is believed about Piscopo and as such, Rizzitello was not yet an inducted member of LA’s Cosa Nostra. Both Colombo members then urged Fratianno to induct Mike Rizzi, calling him a “good fucking man”, despite his ties to the Gallo gang.

Michael Rizzitello was officially inducted as a member of the Los Angeles family on June 6th, 1976. While this ceremony with the LA family was recognised and sanctioned, it can be safely assumed that whatever “unofficial” ritual the Gallo brothers had performed, was likely more formal in nature. Rizzitello was inducted in a literal backseat ceremony, in a vehicle driven by Louie Dragna onto a dirt road in Murrieta, with Frank “Bomp” Bompensiero and Jimmy Fratianno also present. Dragna was officially the acting boss for the family, alongside Fratianno (officially the family’s acting underboss), while Frank Bomp had been promoted to consigliere, replacing Thomas “Tommy” Palermo, a cousin of former boss Frank DeSimone. Palermo was also a cousin of Dallas family boss, Joseph “Joe” Civello.

During the ceremony, Fratianno pricked Rizzitello’s trigger finger while Bompensiero spoke some Sicilian rites and Dragna explained the introduction process – it should be noted that everyone in the vehicle at this time, minus Rizzitello, ended up betraying their LCN oath. Jimmy as a full-blown witness (first as a CI) while Louie Dragna and Bompensiero were both famously confidential informants. Salvatore “Dago Louie” Piscopo, another made man connected to Mike Rizzi, was also a CI.

L to R: Frank Bompensiero, Louis T. Dragna and Thomas Palermo

Following his induction, Rizzitello accompanied Fratianno on several trips to New York, where he was introduced to various different mobsters as Jimmy’s “skipper” in Los Angeles, mostly to Genovese and Colombo connected gangsters. These include Frank “Funzi” Tieri, Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, Carmine “Eli” Zeccardi, Vincent “Chin” Gigante, Anthony “Tony Shots” Abbatemarco, Andrew “Andy Mush” Russo and Thomas “Tom” DiBella, to name a few. Of this list, only Russo is still alive, currently considered the boss of the Colombo family and also facing indictments for his alleged involvement in labour racketeering.

Since this blog entry’s initial release, Russo has died, aged 87, in April of 2022

Andrew “Mush” Russo, long time Colombo mobster, circa 2013

Also around this time, in 1976, Rizzitello was looking to become involved with a pornography company called Forex, that had been brought to his attention by Frank Bompensiero. Against Fratianno’s advice, Mike Rizzi had assigned Tommy Ricciardi and Giacchino “Jack” Lo Cicero (seemingly members of his crew), to further investigate and extort Forex, an undercover FBI operation. Additionally, Fratianno had met with Russell “Russ” Bufalino, then the boss of the north-eastern Pennsylvania family that once bore his name, who had requested the LA family’s assistance in murdering Jack Napoli, who owed a New York jeweller some 25 thousand dollars. Fratianno agreed to help and said that he would assign a crew to handle the issue – Rizzitello would end up with the contract.

Later on, in early 1977, Rizzitello and Fratianno, alongside Ricciardi and Lo Cicero, would begin facing legal troubles for their extortion of Forex. Unwittingly, the FBI operation also exposed their long time inside man, Bompensiero, to the Los Angeles family. Now labelled as a “rat”, plans were being put in place to murder Frank Bomp.

Informant Frank Bompensiero

On February 10th, 1977, Frank Bompensiero was murdered by Thomas Ricciardi and Jack Lo Cicero, with Ricciardi pulling the trigger and Lo Cicero, a onetime illegal immigrant, driving the getaway car. Ricciardi was inducted for his role in the murder and Lo Cicero was made consigliere – a position he held until his death in 1990, the no. 3 spot never being filled afterwards during Peter Milano’s tenure. Thomas Palermo (1903-1983) had also been reconsidered for the position but ultimately was passed over.

Giacchino Lo Cicero

Dominic Brooklier had also been released by this point and no longer needed Jimmy Fratianno and Louie Dragna to hold administration positions, which meant that both were back to their previous spots. Samuel “Sam” Sciortino remained underboss while Brooklier continued to lead the family, much to the chagrin of both Rizzitello and Fratianno – Mike Rizzi felt that his friend should’ve been the one to head the Los Angeles mob.

Fratianno’s star had begun to fall and he was mostly keeping to himself in San Francisco, despite the objections of James “Jimmy” Lanza, boss of the SF mob, who had his underboss (Gaspare “Bill” Sciortino), try and contact his cousin (Sam) in Los Angeles in order to get Jimmy out of town. Rizzitello on the other hand, had been tasked by Brooklier to attempt to extort Morris “Moe” Dalitz, on behalf of the Outfit. Speaking with Rizzitello, Fratianno tasked him with organising a sitdown with Brooklier to resolve the issues with Lanza and also to get Russell Bufalino’s input on the matter. Agreeing, Mike Rizzi was then referred to as Jimmy’s last friend in Los Angeles – only for Fratianno to report the extortion attempt to his FBI handlers once Rizzitello was gone.

Without detailing the ultimate downfall of Aladena James Fratianno, he was betrayed by Rizzitello as he had betrayed others, after being informed by FBI agents that Mike Rizzi had been seen surveying his house on multiple separate occasions. With no more allies left in the mob, Fratianno turned state’s evidence and was instrumental in putting away various high ranking LCN members.

Samuel “Sam” Sciortino (L) and Dominic “Regace” Brooklier (R)

In November of 1980, Rizzitello, Sciortino, Brooklier, Lo Cicero and Louis Dragna, were all sentenced based on testimony from Fratianno. Mike Rizzi drew 5 years, Sam Sciortino received 4 years, Jimmy Regace another 4 years, Louie Dragna got 2 years with hefty fines and Lo Cicero was sentenced to 2 years with no fines. Thomas Ricciardi had passed away from heart disease prior to the trial, meaning nobody was sentenced for the murder of Bompensiero.

These convictions paved the way for Peter “Pete” Milano (nicknamed “Shakes Milano” by Kenny Gallo), who was now virtually unchallenged as the head of the Los Angeles crime family when Brooklier passed away while in custody, in July of 1984. Milano began reorganising the LA family, inducting new members, making promotions and making plans that sought to seize control of the entire bookmaking industry in Los Angeles.

Rizzitello was released in 1986 and came back to a Los Angeles family that had changed dramatically. Pete Milano had been boss for little over 2 years, while his brother, Carmen (“Flipper”), a former Cleveland family associate and disbarred Teamster lawyer, was now the underboss. Mike Rizzi himself was the only Brooklier-era caporegime left, with Vincent “Jimmy” Caci, Luigi “Louie” Gelfuso Junior and possibly Louis “Louie Little Man” Caruso running the active Los Angeles family crews. John “Jersey John” Aquilante was in charge of whatever operations were left in San Diego, though it is doubtful he had any actual soldiers and associates under him – a far cry from the days of Bompensiero.

Carmen Milano

Furthermore, one of Rizzitello’s associates, Craig Anthony “Tony Rome” Fiato, alongside his brother Lawrence, aka “Larry”, were both now confidential informants for the FBI and were building a case against Milano’s somewhat revamped mob. Other changes include the inductions of Stephen “Whale” Cino, Rocco “Rocky Bigfoot” Zangari, both Buffalo, NY natives, Russell “Rusty” Masetta, Pete Milano’s son-in-law and Michael “Porno Mike” Esposito, a pornography store owner connected to Raymond “Rocky” DeRosa, a narcotics dealer and also an LA soldier.

Additionally, Michael “Mike Marino” Comparetti, a New Yorker and reputed Rizzitello affiliate, along with Nicholas Paul “Nick” Nardi (unrelated to the Cleveland Nardi clan) were also inducted into the Los Angeles family by June of 1985. Both may have been members of Mike Rizzitello’s crew.

Michael Comparetti

It did not take long for Rizzitello to find trouble, though he managed to keep it at bay early on. In May of 1986, Mike Rizzi, Nick Nardi and long-time associate, Fat Bobby Paduano, were acquitted on stock fraud charges and on October 2nd of the following year, Rizzitello beat these charges related to a million dollar securities fraud – represented both times by Anthony “Tony” Brooklier, son of the former boss. However, those acquittals did not amount to much in the grand scheme of things. While Pete Milano (who Rizzitello had grown distant with due to his relationship with Fratianno) and others were battling charges related to the Fiato brothers and their tape recorders, Rizzitello found himself facing further legal difficulty because of another old friend of his.

William Heldman, now going by William “Bill” Carroll, was by this point the new financier for the Mustang Club, a topless theatre in Santa Ana once run by the flamboyant Jimmy Casino (James Stockwell), also alleged to have been a mob associate. Carroll found himself in a dispute with Rizzitello over extortion payments and a business deal the pair had been involved in. Rizzitello had sold around 10 thousand dollars worth of lingerie to Carroll, who planned to resell them to dancers employed at the Mustang Club. However, Carroll was stiffed on the money made off these sales by Rizzitello affiliate Joseph “Joey” Grosso. Complaining to Mike Rizzi about the situation, Carroll seemingly found no recourse and as a result, banned Joey Grosso from the club. Grosso allegedly had also been involved in peddling narcotics to some of the dancers.

Rizzitello, now in his 60s, seemingly wanted control over the entire establishment and its lucrative profits. Bill Carroll had refused to comply and per Mike Rizzi himself, was “not letting us eat”, leading to Carroll being shot 3 times in the head on the 1st of May, 1987. Rizzitello was the triggerman, while Joseph Grosso held the Mustang Club executive down.

L to R: William Carroll, George Yudzevich and Joseph Grosso

George “Big Georgie” Yudzevich (also spelled Yudzevitch), a former bouncer at the club and onetime informant against Gambino family members Joseph “Joe Piney” Armone and Joseph N. Gallo, claimed to associates that he disposed of the Carroll hit evidence (a gun and a silencer) but seemingly over concerns about his silence, he was allegedly murdered by Rizzitello a few months later in early 1988. Yudzevich, who stood around 6′8″ tall, had once been an extra in the 1980 film, Gloria, a story about a gangster’s girlfriend going on the run with a young boy over information that the mob wants. Robert Paduano, whose investigation Yudzevich played a “minor role” in, is believed to have been involved in his murder but was never charged.

It is not clear if Big George was informing law enforcement about Paduano’s extortion and narcotics-related activities in Newport Beach but if this were the case, coupled with his status as a long time LA associate and the close proximity of Fat Bobby’s mortgage business to Yudzevich’s murder scene, it does appear likely that Paduano was involved in this murder.

Despite what would seem like a killing blow, Carroll survived the attempt on his life and despite being permanently blinded, he was able to identify Big Mike Rizzi and Joey Grosso as his attackers, though he had initially refused to cooperate with authorities until other charges were dropped against him. Grosso, in turn, became an informant and testified against Rizzitello, who, again represented by Tony Brooklier, was sentenced to 33 years in state prison for his attempted hit on Carroll, as well as additional charges related to firearm use while a felon. It is unclear what role the Los Angeles family’s administration had in these matters but it seems likely that neither of the Milano brothers nor Jack Lo Cicero offered any input or made any decisions related to Bill Carroll and Georgie Yudzevich.

Further related to his his legal difficulties, Rizzitello was also added to the Las Vegas “black book” in 1988, due to his connections with organised crime, though has seemingly since his death been removed from the exclusion list by the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

Anthony Brooklier (L) and Michael Rizzitello (R)

With regards to Anthony Fiato’s claims of a second Los Angeles family sanctioned by Aniello “Neil” Dellacroce, known best as John Gotti’s mentor and Paul Castellano’s underboss, little exists to confirm that this ever was the case. Fiato’s claim seems farfetched as the only members of the “Rizzitello family” appear to be himself, as the underboss and Big Mike, who was then said to have led the family. The reality of the situation is that Rizzitello may not have been the most trusted Los Angeles family member, at least from the perspective of Pete Milano and his administration but that does not suggest that a second family would ever have been sanctioned, especially given how it was the 1980s.

Plus, if it was coming from “Old Man Neil”, odds are that “Quack-Quack” Ruggiero would have been heard talking about it somewhere.

Craig Anthony Fiato

Rizzitello may have felt that he was the best candidate for boss of the LA family but he did not have the standing, seniority or track record that Pete Milano did and while both did associate with the “wrong people” early on in their organised crime careers (Milano with Mickey Cohen and Mike Rizzi with the Gallo brothers), Pete was able to get into the good graces of “ruling faction” of the Los Angeles family.

Milano was associated with members like Dominic Brooklier, Sam Sciortino and Louie Dragna, whereas Rizzitello became close with Fratianno, who had long been regarded as a troublemaker by previous SoCal LCN bosses like Frank DeSimone and Nicolo Licata. Fratianno’s reputation and later infamy as a turncoat seems to have heavily impacted Rizzitello’s position within the LA family – not helped by his affiliation with mobsters like Salvatore Piscopo and Anthony Fiato. Additionally, Milano had strong familial connections to organised crime through his father and his uncle unlike Mike Rizzi.

Sentenced in April of 1990, Michael Rizzitello died in Palm Springs on October 26th, 2005. It is unclear if he was in custody at the time of his death, as he was in his late 70s and had been battling cancer, so it is possible that Big Mike had been released from the California State prison system before he died.

Described as a “tough guy” until the end, even when the Los Angeles family began to fall apart, John L. Smith (The Animal in Hollywood) reported in November of 2005 that Mike Rizzi, despite his effective death sentence, had refused to cooperate with detectives who were looking into other mob related murders. I believe the following quote best sums up his career in organised crime;

“You can’t work a job and call yourself a gangster”

– Kenny “Kenji” Gallo

Michael “Mike Rizzi” Rizzitello (1983)