Danny Greene lived explosively. He died the same way. The brash and fearless Cleveland Irish mob boss was killed in a car bombing 40 years ago this week on the afternoon of October 6, 1977. His murder ceased tensions between the city’s Irish and Italian crime factions which had raged for the previous 18 months and tallied a string of vicious bombings and mob hits that rocked the region and attracted nationwide press attention. The 43-year old Green was blown up by a bomb that detonated in a car parked next to his in the parking lot of a Lyndhurst, Ohio dentist’s office and the ripple effects of his high-profile slaying pretty much spelled the end of the once-powerful Cleveland mafia in the years to come.

A former U.S. Marine fascinated by world history and his Irish heritage, Greene first came on the scene as a force to be reckoned with in the longshoremen’s union on the docks of Lake Erie, eventually getting elected president of the city’s International Longshoremen’s Association. Venturing into local gangland affairs under the tutelage of Cleveland mafia underboss Frank (Little Frankie) Brancato and legendary area Jewish mobster Alex (Shondor) Birns, working as an enforcer, collector and bodyguard for both, he hedged his bets and also began cooperating with the FBI as a confidential informant. It wasn’t long before he had his own set of street rackets and a band of loyal, mainly-Irish lieutenants he called the Celtic Club surrounding him and doing his bidding.

Pushed out of power in the longshoremen’s union in the late 1960s, Greene gravitated towards infiltrating the sanitation and vending machine industries while cultivating connections in the mammoth Teamsters union and dabbling in the fire restoration business. By the early 1970s, Greene was partnered with his underworld mentors, Little Frankie Brancato and Shondor Birns in a series of gambling, extortion and narcotics operations. Through his ties to Brancato and Birns, he forged a relationship with the Gambino crime family out of New York City. Far from camera or quote shy, he often did interviews with the media in an attempt to curry favor with the press and shape a public image for himself as more benevolent community leader than Irish crime lord.

Brancato died of natural causes in 1973 and in the years that followed Greene and Birns fell out over a drug deal gone wrong. Birns placed a murder contract on his former protégé’s head and Greene retaliated by having Birns blown to bits in a March 1975 car bombing. This put the tough-as-nails Irishman at odds with Brancato and Birns’ pals in the mafia and set the stage for war.

When longtime Cleveland mafia don John Scalish, the consummate gentleman gangster, passed away on the operating table during open heart surgery in the spring of 1976, Greene squared off with Scalish’s more rough-around-the-edges successor, James (Jack White) Licavoli, for the city’s racket empire, the crown jewel of which was the syndicate’s lucrative share in the famous Las Vegas casino skim. Firming up further backing, Greene joined forces with a Teamsters bigwig and Italian mobster named John Nardi in his fight with the Licavoli camp, further strengthening his position courtesy of Nardi’s contacts and influence in the labor union. Nardi’s uncle, Tony Milano, had served as Scalish’s consigliere and top advisor.

Licavoli’s underboss, best friend and first cousin Calogero (Leo Lips) Moceri, disappeared in August 1976 after a loud verbal altercation with Nardi at the Feast of the Assumption in Cleveland’s Little Italy – only his blood-soaked Mercedes was ever recovered. Nardi, 61, was killed in a car bombing outside his Cleveland Teamsters office on May 17, 1977, five months prior to Greene meeting the same fate. In the wake of Greene’s death, most of his loyalists fell in line behind Licavoli.

Pennsylvania mobster Ray Ferritto, the man ultimately responsible for planning and carrying out Greene’s murder – recruited from out-of-state to perform the hit after a number of unsuccessful tries by several Mafiosi in Ohio proved an embarrassment for Licavoli’s regime –, went on to be arrested shortly after completing the job and testify for the government in court against his bosses. Ferritto was tipped off to Greene’s dentist appointment on October 6, 1977 by Licavoli, who had placed a tap on Greene’s phone.

Jack Licavoli died of a heart attack behind bars in 1985. He was 81 years old. His incarceration three years before marked the beginning of the end for a crime family already on its last legs due to general attrition and fallout from the war with Greene and his Irish mob.

Today, the Cleveland mafia has no formal structure and is considered virtually dormant. The story of Danny Greene was turned into a movie in 2011 called Kill The Irishman and starring Ray Stevenson as Greene and Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer and Paul Sorvino in supporting roles.

 

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