Who Killed Denver Mob’s ‘Baby John’ Might Never Be Answered

Any remaining knowledge of the notorious 1980 Denver gangland murder of mob soldier Giovanni (Baby John) Foderaro might have gone to the grave with the death of longtime Colorado underworld figure Joseph (Joe Valley) Valentich, one of the last living made members of the Denver mafia prior to his passing.

A former capo in the now-defunct crime syndicate, basing his activities out of nearby Pueblo, at the time of his death late this summer, Valentich, 90, was still a suspect in the unsolved Foderaro hit, according to Colorado Police files.

Pueblo is a well-populated suburb just south of Denver and a city that serves as the area’s County Seat.

In a 1981 FBI raid of his house, two dozen weapons, including handguns, rifles and shotguns, were seized and he was charged with illegal firearm possession. Joe Valley was convicted, but would later have the conviction overturned. His only two other major collars during his mob career were a pair of gambling busts he took in the mid-1970s, one of which he had the charges dropped against him before the case hit the courtroom.

The brash Mafioso, who was a one-time paratrooper in the Marine Corps and held the reputation as being just as good a carpenter than he was a gangster, had his name listed in an 1981 federal affidavit and search warrant connected to the investigation into Baby John Foderaro’s murder.

The 33-year old Foderaro had a long rap sheet and was slain at his headquarters, Gino’s Lounge, in Pueblo, his body discovered by his wife in the early-morning hours of November 24, 1980, with his throat slashed and stabbed 16 times. More than $2,500 was stolen from the safe in Baby John’s office, but the FBI almost immediately declared the murder “mob-related.”

Multiple informants told the FBI that the infamous Smaldone brothers, Denver mafia Don Eugene (Checkers) Smaldone, his underboss Clarence (Chauncey) Smaldone and his consigliere, Clyde (Flip-Flop) Smaldone ordered Foderaro’s killing and farmed the job out to a group pf their lieutenants.

Less than a year before he died, Baby John, good-looking, ambitious and quick to utilize violence as an enforcement method, was indicted and convicted at trial for planning to assault Pueblo County Commissioner A.H. Hayden with a baseball bat following a verbal altercation at a city hall meeting. The mobster and politician butted heads over Hayden’s refusal to green-light the rezoning of potentially-lucrative parcels of property that Foderaro owned and was trying to develop.

The two goons Baby John hired to carry out the job, Bobby Wirtz and Bobby Schaak caught a bad break though and on a routine traffic stop were found with bats, pipes and a map to Hayden’s house, resulting in Wirtz turning state’s evidence and testifying against Foderaro at the April 1980 trial that it took a jury a little more than two hours to vote to convict him. Hit with a six-year prison sentence, he was free on bond awaiting a ruling on his appeal at the time of his death.

Foderaro came up under early 1970s Denver mob boss Joseph (Scotty) Spinuzzi, the leader of the Family’s Pueblo faction. First acting as the gangland power’s driver and bodyguard, Baby John eventually got his “button” in the Colorado mafia when Spinuzzi became Don and was given his own gambling and loansharking rackets to look after. The pair were indicted together in 1971 in a case regarding a string of supermarket robberies. When Spinuzzi died in 1975, he was feuding with the Smaldones’ Denver crew and the bad blood continued after his death with Foderaro refusing to toe-the-line in Checkers Smaldone’s new regime.

Baby John’s half-brother Lee Beard told authorities that Foderaro was approached by Denver Police Department detectives seeking his cooperation in organized crime investigations in the area in the months before his murder. When these reports surfaced in the media in the wake of the slaying, the city’s district attorney released a statement claiming that Foderaro had reached out through his attorney looking for a reduction in his prison sentence in return for providing information related to A.H. Hayden taking bribes.

Although the Denver mob achieved some level of prominence in the nation’s mafia landscape – Colorado Godfather James (Black Jim) Colletti was held in great esteem and attended the infamous Apalachin mob summit in 1957 and the Smaldones had respect across the country– since Checkers and Flip Flop Smaldone’s death of natural causes in 1992 and 1998, respectively, the syndicate has ceased to function at any real capacity.

Local experts and historians point to one of the primary reasons for the Denver mob’s extinction in the New Millennium spawns from the fact that two of the men groomed to succeed the Smaldones in the local mafia’s leadership were both killed, according to federal documents, on the orders of the Smaldones themselves; Baby John Foderaro and John (Skip) La Guardia, a former University of Colorado football player and Checkers’ one-time bodyguard who was killed in front of his suburban Denver home in July 1973, days after he celebrated his 30th birthday, for the Smaldones’ belief that he was on the verge of moving against them.

“They did themselves in by not planning for the future,” said retired Denver FBI agent Jim Davis of the Colorado mob’s demise. “The young guys at the end of the Smaldones reign were all into drugs and unreliable and the two guys people back in the 1970s thought would be the next generation after Checkers and his brothers were gone, Skip La Guardia and John Foderaro, both didn’t make it past 35, so you do the math.”

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