One of the less notorious, yet durable, Cosa Nostra networks to ever operate within the United States was the one headed by Sebastiano J. (Big John) LaRocca.
Like their brethren in other U.S. cities, the underworld network based in the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania started out on a rocky road with more than their fair share of internal strife and gangland slayings. But by the early 1930s, a formally recognized “borgata” had been established and from that time forward Pittsburgh’s underworld would slowly fade into the background and quietly operate for the next half-century.
By all accounts, it was a small Family, especially compared to some of their contemporaries across the country.
On review, it’s believed that John LaRocca purposely structured his borgata that way so as to both limit his exposure as well as maximize the profits shared among him and his hierarchy and rank-and-file soldiers.
He maintained a small cadre of “capo di decina,” or (captains), who served as territory bosses overseeing the Family’s various rackets and legitimate businesses.
The LaRocca Family lineup included such well-known crime figures as underboss/future boss Michael Genovese, capo/underboss Joseph (JoJo) Pecora, soldier/consigliere Charles (Charlie Murgie) Imburgia, and capos Joseph (Little Joe Ragno) Regino, Luigi (Lou) Volpe, Joseph (Joe) Sica, Gabriel (Kelly) Mannarino and Antonio (Tony) Ripepi, who were all considered to be among the “creme de la creme” of Pittsburgh’s Italian underworld.
Everybody was allowed to make money. So, subsequently, there was little need for jealousy among his upper “Administration” which in turn helped reduce, if not eliminate, any potential internal strife and gangland conflict.
This mentality also allowed Pittsburgh’s rank-and-file to keep a lower profile which resulted in fewer criminal investigations, arrests, criminal convictions, and jail sentences.
Pittsburgh Family Life
What follows below is an interesting series of unique personal photographs Button Guys has put together of LaRocca and his top men. These rare photographs give an unvarnished view into the rarely-seen personal lives of mafiosi. A “peak behind the curtain,” if you will.
These photographs were taken at casual family get-togethers, birthday parties at home, school graduations, backyard barbecues, dining at restaurants and attending shows, card games among friends, drinking and horsing around together at a private hunting lodge that doubled as a hangout and social club, etc.
Arguably, the mafiosi represented in these photos were among the most important racketeers the City of Pittsburgh had to offer.
In the photographs below, you’ll see Family boss John LaRocca, his underboss and successor Michael Genovese, capo and future underboss Joseph (JoJo) Pecora, soldier Charles (Charlie Murgie) Imburgia, who was later named consigliere, and veteran capos Joseph (Little Joe Ragno) Regino and Luigi (Lou) Volpe.
There are others present in these photographs who ranked as Family “associates” and still others who were just legitimate folks: wives, cousins, and personal friends. One particular friend who figures prominently in some of these photos is comedian Ralph Michaels, one half of the comedy team The “Punchy” Punchinellos. Ralph performed at the Yankee Clipper Hotel in Fort Lauderdale for 29 years. The family became friends with the LaRoccas and Pecoras back in Pittsburgh years before.
These exclusive photographs show the mafiosi with their hair down, so to speak, relaxing and enjoying life amongst one another, entertaining in their homes, and attending functions just like regular folks.
It shows the “other side” of underworld life. The one they protected and kept private, far away from newspaper cameramen and the glare of law enforcement exposure; the one they shared with their beloved families and friends.
Button Guys would like to give a special thank you and acknowledgment to Nancy M. (personal photos) and FOH (Charlie’s Roost photos) for their contributions to this photo gallery. We provided a short blurb underneath each photo to try and explain where it was taken and who is in the photograph. (Click on each photograph to view the blurb.)