CLEVELAND -- Some authorities say the Cleveland underworld has been in such disarray since a bloody 'Italian-Irish' mob war claimed several lives in the mid-1970s that it might best be described as 'disorganized' crime.
Six reputed members of the Cleveland Mafia, including alleged boss James T. 'Jack White' Licavoli, are facing trial in U.S. District Court, charged with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Law enforcement officials see the case as their best chance to date to deal a crippling blow to the underworld by striking at two upper-echelon mob figures who so far have escaped conviction.
Trial was to have begun Monday but was delayed last week to permit two defendants to appeal a pre-trial ruling to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
Federal prosecutors, who predict the trial will last eight weeks, have three turncoat mobsters subpoenaed to testify, including confessed contract killers Aladena 'Jimmy the Weasel' Fratianno and Raymond Ferritto.
The RICO Act, upheld by the Supreme Court, was designed to allow prosecutors to attack organized crime by demonstrating how seemingly unrelated acts were part of a criminal 'enterprise.'
Three of the acts specified in the indictment that brought the alleged Cleveland mobsters to trial deal with the planning and execution of the spectacular 1977 bombing deaths of Teamsters leader John Nardi and Daniel J. 'Danny' Greene, who headed the 'Irish faction' that authorities say tried to wrest control of area rackets from Licavoli.
After Greene's death, Licavoli allegedly told Ferritto, 'Now things maybe will settle down and we can make a buck.'
But one law enforcement figure who asked not to be identified told UPI that aggressive local and federal prosecutions since then have decimated the mob.
He said three of the six defendants, Pasquale 'Butchie' Cisternino, Ronald 'The Crab' Carabbia and Kenneth Ciarcia, were convicted in 1978 on state murder charges in the Greene killing and are serving life prison terms.
Testimony from admitted triggerman Ferritto and information provided by Fratianno, a former Clevelander described as the highest-ranking Mafia member ever to defect, were instrumental in those convictions.
Another defendant, Anthony 'Tony Lib' Liberatore, was convicted of bribing an FBI clerk to obtain confidential informants' reports. Ciarcia pleaded guilty to the same charge.
In Ovid Demaris' book 'The Last Mafioso,' Fratianno described in detail the mob war in Cleveland and how he recommended Ferritto to Licavoli and others to 'take care' of Nardi and Greene.
Fratianno also said he had several conversations with Licavoli about documents obtained from the FBI clerk. Licavoli was charged in the case but acquitted in a 1980 bribery trial, despite Fratianno's testimony.
Other reputed mobsters also have fallen victim to prosecutors.
'Joey Gallo (considered a top figure in narcotics and gambling) is going away (for gambling and arson convictions),' the official said. 'Carmen Zagaria, an up-and-coming young turk, is going away (on drug convictions).'
Only Licavoli and John P. Calandra, the sixth defendant in the current case, have escaped convictions so far.
Prosecutors have indicated they will introduce at trial other evidence of organized crime activities not specified in the indictments, possibly including the killing of longtime Fratianno associate Leo 'Lips' Moceri and the slayings or disappearances of four Greene lieutenants.
The body of one Greene associate, William Bostic, was dumped in a rural area east of Cleveland in 1980 and it took nearly a year -- and the services of a Kent State University anthropology professor -- to identify the skeleton. His heads, hands and feet had been chopped off, authorities said.
The law enforcement official said that as a result of the unsettled situation in Cleveland, mobsters in Youngstown -- operating under the Pittsburgh 'family' -- have grabbed control of rackets in Warren, previously run by Carabbia.
'Taking Ronnie Carabbia out of the scene (led to the move by Youngstown mobsters),' said the official. 'His two brothers were not competent to hold off Pittsburgh.'
Officials say the Youngstown-Warren war has resulted in nine deaths, with two more wounded and two others -- including Carabbia's brother, Charles -- missing.
Licavoli's attorney, James R. Willis, has laughed off government allegations of mob activities and called Fratianno a 'government celebrity.'
After a seventh man named in the federal indictment -- Thomas Lanci - pleaded guilty last month and agreed to testify for the prosecution, Willis again blasted the government's use of confessed mobsters.
'I believe the government can get anybody to do anything they want him to do,' he said. 'Enough pressure can be brought to bear on an innocent man to make him lie in order to survive.
'I am concerned that what we hear from Mr. Lanci on the witness stand may not necessarily be the truth.'