Shondor Birns & Danny Green: Cleveland's Killer Celebrities
'Look at That Weasel!'
According to "The Last Mafioso," a biography by Ovid DeMaris, Altadena James Fratianno was born in 1913 in a small Italian town near Naples. When he was four months old, his parents emigrated to the United States, to Cleveland's Little Italy.
In school, he was always getting into fights. Finally, he was sent to what was known as the "bad boy" school.
He loved to steal fruit from sidewalk stands. Sometimes a policeman would chase him. One day, DeMaris relates, he hit the policeman in the face with a tomato and took off with the policeman close behind.
Jimmy easily outran him. An older man watching from the sidewalk exclaimed, "Look at that weasel run!"
The name stuck.
Jimmy was working for a bootlegger at the age of 12. Two years later he dropped out of Collinwood High. He went to work for a gambler who operated a game at a Greek restaurant and taught him how to cheat.
He soon graduated to robbing other people's gambling games. One robbery went wrong and he wound up spending eight years in the Ohio Penitentiary.
When he got out in 1945, he went back to pulling heists. A boyhood friend, Louis "Babe" Triscaro, had become a Teamster leader; he wangled Jimmy a job as a factory canteen manager.
DeMaris writes, "Managing canteens looked like a legitimate job to Jimmy's parole officer, but it was a black market operation and a gold mine. He sold nylon hose, cigarettes, liquor, food and gas ration stamps — anything that was hard to get."
As soon as his parole was up, he headed for Los Angeles, where he quickly set up a successful bookmaking operation and palled around with such up-and-coming hoods as Salvatore "Dago Louie" Piscopo, Giolamo "Momo" Adamo and Frank "Bomp" Bompensiero.
In 1946, he achieved his dream. He was "made" — sworn in as a member of the Mafia.
Years later, with a new identity in an undisclosed location, he told DeMaris of the benefits.
"The fact that you're a member gives you an edge," he said. "You can go into various businesses and people will deal with you because of what you represent. See, you've got all this power. Nobody f—-s with you. We can get things done nobody else can."
Next: The Weasel Sings