Joseph A. (Joe LaBarba) LaBarbara – aka “Joe Barone,” “Joseph LaBarbera,” “Joe New York,” and “Joe Labar” – was born in Independence, Iowa (other sources say Louisiana), on August 17, 1912, one of two sons of Dominick and Josephine LaBarbara. When he was still a child, the family relocated back northeast to the City of Buffalo, NY.
The LaBarbaras first resided at 211 Busti Avenue, and later, at 248 Busti Ave. By the mid-1930s, during various arrests, Joe alternately listed his home address as either 488 or 506 West Avenue. But regardless of exact addresses, the Buffalo area is where he and his brother Michael would grow up and operate for most of their lives.
LaBarbara stood 5 feet 7 inches tall and was a middleweight at 150 pounds. He had wavy dark-brown hair, grey eyes, and sported a trim build.
Records show he married a local Italian girl named Angelina and they had one son they had named Michael after Joe’s brother. The family lived in a small apartment located at 488 West Avenue, Buffalo.
FBI #383602, Buffalo-PD #25152
It’s All About the Money
Over the years, Joseph LaBarbara became well known to the local police department which kept occasional tabs on him. Authorities say he was a prolific hoodlum and racketeer apt to engage in nearly any type of criminal activity that could generate money. His brother Michael was also a known hoodlum who was often in league with Joe.
He occasionally listed his employment as a cab driver or as a laborer working on small construction jobs. But law enforcement said this was mostly a ruse or sporadic employment at best to make ends meet while he jumped from scheme to scheme.
LaBarbara, who was more commonly known as “Joe LaBarba” to the local underworld, operated throughout the city and regularly visited Chicago, Illinois as well to conduct his criminal activities. But among his favorite local watering holes and eateries were Santore’s Restaurant, The Park-Edge Restaurant, and the Why Not Bar, all three of which were known underworld hangouts located in the Downtown Buffalo area.
He enjoyed the reputation of a hold-up man, feared strong-arm enforcer, and contract killer for the city’s Cosa Nostra then dominated by the Stefano Magaddino Crime Family.
His criminal record dates to 1930 when he was only 18 years old. He had over thirty-some-odd arrests for mostly strong-arm type activities which included grand larceny, attempted robbery (6 months), motor vehicle law violations (unlicensed driver), grand larceny and tavern holdup of $3200 in receipts (acquitted), burglary (three times), armed robbery with a gun (dismissed), robbery (3-5 years), attempted extortion of a restaurant owner, reckless driving, assault and robbery (three times), consorting with known criminals, and felonious assault. In later years, he was also arrested for narcotics law violations.
His known activities reputedly included liquor bootlegging, extortion, planned robberies, and the distribution of heroin and cocaine in both local and interstate commerce.
Shaking Down the Bookies
On May 22, 1931, he was one of five young hoodlums arrested for a series of systematic assaults and robberies and shakedowns of Buffalo-area bookmakers and gamblers.
After a series of holdups at two bookmaking establishments and the threat of bombings at several other locations, police picked up the fledgling young racketeers they considered to be the nucleus of a gang preying on professional gamblers after the cops received a telephone tip that provided the license plate numbers of the getaway car used in one of the holdups.
The other four suspects arrested with LaBarbara in the case were Jerry Seabio, future Mafia soldier Salvatore (Sam) Brocato, Stephen Geraci, and Louis Burgio.
At the time of their arrests, the police stated that local bookmakers “were at wits end following threats from the mob who are demanding a cut of 50% of all profits they make. Stories have been circulating that threats of violence have been leveled at race-wire proprietors if they do not meet the demands.”
Authorities further reported that one Allen Street bookmaking parlor was “shaken down” for $231. A young clerk working there who had refused admittance to four unidentified men was later dragged from the place, pulled into a car, and then driven to an undisclosed remote location where he was given a severe beating by the thugs.
It was reported that over a dozen Buffalo bookmakers had already been approached by the racketeers. Police said the gang operated by “walk(ing) into a place. Ask(ing) how business is, and then demand(ing) a 50 percent cut of all money taken in.”
Authorities added that many other leads were being followed and that they expected additional arrests besides the five men already picked up.
A Bedside Interview
Then, on September 19, 1939, Buffalo police reported that they had conducted a bedside interview with Joseph LaBarbara at Columbus Hospital in Buffalo where he had been admitted after receiving a brutal beating by unknown assailants under mysterious circumstances.
Police reported that LaBarbara had sustained serious injuries that included broken ribs and a battered chest, puffed and bruised eyes, a beaten face, and a swollen left-side jaw. The report went on to say that despite his injuries, the victim balked at all police efforts to learn the details of the assault.
Assistant Detective Chief Richard H. Mack said that during questioning LaBarbara stated, “I don’t know who beat me up, and I don’t know where it happened.” All the police could learn was that the victim had first gone to the offices of a Westside physician for his injuries and that the doctor immediately ordered him to Columbus Hospital.
Staying true to the underworld’s unwritten code of conduct, LaBarbara seems to have played it “D & D,” or “deaf and dumb.”
In March 1942, the Chicago Police Department held the then-29-year-old hoodlum, at the request of New York State Police who were seeking LaBarbara for yet another holdup after he fled Buffalo to avoid prosecution.
LaBarbara was part of a masked gang that held up twenty patrons at the Columbus Social & Athletic Club, robbing them of $2000 six months earlier on the night of September 21, 1941. Three others nabbed in the same case were identified as Joseph Paterno (29), future Mafia soldier Leonard Fambo (25), and Harry Ricci (24). A fifth, unidentified suspect escaped arrest in the case.
Joe Paterno and Lenny Fambo were later convicted of first-degree armed robbery. Paterno was sentenced to Attica State Penitentiary for 15-30 years, while Fambo was sent away for a term of 7.5-15 years. No final disposition could be determined for either LaBarbara or Ricci.
A Large Circle of Friends
Known criminal associates included many notorious local hoodlums and gunmen such as his brother Michael LaBarbara, Stephen Coppola, Edward Scillia, Anthony (Tony) Privatera, brothers Angelo and Salvatore (Sam) Rizzo, Anthony (Lucky) Perna, Leonard Fambo, and Salvatore (Sam) Brocato, all of whom were listed as Magaddino Family members.
He was also in league with many mob associates such as Joseph Caliere, Samuel Muscato, Louis Burgio, Steven Gerace, Michael DiSalvio, James V. Graziano, Gerardo (Jerry Seabio) Scalio, Vincent C. Cronin, Samuel J. Mangione, Harry Ricci, Joseph Paterno, brothers Angelo and Nicholas Cirrito, many of whom had been arrested with LaBarbara over the years for various armed robberies and holdups. He was also a known associate of Frank (The Hawk) Borelli who was identified as a member of the Lucchese Family of East Harlem, NY.
Many of the above-mentioned men were known to peddle narcotics. Coppola and Borelli, in particular, were thought to have sometimes partnered with LaBarbara in various drug transactions. He was also known to have also interacted with Frank Borelli, who was thought to occasionally supply LaBarba with “product” for redistribution into Western New York and the Chicago area.
By the 1940s, Joe LaBarbara was also known to be conducting several criminal activities in the Chicago area in close association with “Outfit” members. They knew him as “Joe New York.”
Not much was documented about LaBarbara in his later years. Some sources say he may have eventually relocated permanently to the Chicago area.
Until next time…”The Other Guy”