Santo Trafficante

Santo Trafficante

Santo Trafficante was born in Tampa, Florida, on 15th November, 1914. His father, Santo Trafficante Senior, was a leading figure in the Mafia. In the 1940s he joined up with Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, and Meyer Lansky to set up gambling operations in Cuba. The dictator of Cuba, Fulgencio Batista, received a large cut of the profits.

Santo Trafficante married Josephine Marchese on 17th April, 1938. He worked for his father in Florida and in 1953 he was sent to Cuba to manage some Mafia controlled casinos. Trafficante took full control of these operations when his father died of stomach cancer in August, 1954.

Trafficante also spent time in Florida. This resulted in his arrest and conviction for gambling offences. He was released from prison in January 1957 after his conviction was overturned by Florida's State Supreme Court. It is believed that soon afterwards Trafficante arranged for Albert Anastasia, his Mafia rival, to be murdered. Trafficante returned to Cuba but his casinos were closed down when Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista in January, 1959. Trafficante spent time in prison before being deported to the United States.

In September 1960 Johnny Roselli and Sam Giancana, took part in talks with Allen W. Dulles, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), about the possibility of murdering Fidel Castro. In 1961 Roselli persuaded Trafficante to join the conspiracy. Meyer Lansky also became involved in this plot and was reportedly offering a million-dollar reward for the Cuban leader's murder.

Trafficante also worked closely with the CIA agent, William Harvey, in this operation. By 1962, Trafficante and his friends became convinced that the Cuban revolution could not be reversed by simply killing Castro. However, they continued to play along with this CIA plot in order to prevent them being prosecuted for criminal offences committed in the United States.

It is also believed that Trafficante became involved in Mafia plots to kill President John F. Kennedy. He told a friend, Jose Aleman: "Mark my word, this man Kennedy is in trouble, and he will get what is coming to him. Kennedy's got going to make it to the election. He is going to be hit."

Just before Kennedy was assassinated on 22nd November, 1963, Jack Ruby made contact with Trafficante, and another Mafia leader, Carlos Marcello, about a problem he was having with the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA). However, the Warren Commission failed to find any direct link between Trafficante and Ruby concluded that "Oswald acted alone".

Trafficante continued to work for the CIA and was involved in the Iran-Contra affair. Santo Trafficante died on the 19th March, 1987.

On 14th January, 1992, the New York Post claimed that Trafficante, Jimmy Hoffa and Carlos Marcello had all been involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Frank Ragano was quoted as saying that at the beginning of 1963 Hoffa had told him to take a message to Trafficante and Marcello concerning a plan to kill Kennedy. When the meeting took place at the Royal Orleans Hotel, Ragano told the men: "You won't believe what Hoffa wants me to tell you. Jimmy wants you to kill the president." He reported that both men gave the impression that they intended to carry out this order.

In his autobiography, Mob Lawyer (1994) (co-written with journalist Selwyn Raab) Frank Ragano added that in July, 1963, he was once again sent to New Orleans by Hoffa to meet Trafficante and Carlos Marcello concerning plans to kill President John F. Kennedy. When Kennedy was killed Hoffa apparently said to Ragano: "I told you could do it. I'll never forget what Carlos and Santos did for me." He added: "This means Bobby is out as Attorney General". Marcello later told Ragano: "When you see Jimmy (Hoffa), you tell him he owes me and he owes me big."

Primary Sources

(1) Robert Maheu, Next to Hughes (1992)

In the winter of 1959-60, however, the CIA still thought it could pull off the invasion (of Cuba). But it thought the odds might be better if the plan went one step further - the murder of Fidel Castro. All the Company needed was someone to do the dirty work for it. Professional killers. A gangland-style hit.

It was then that the CIA conceived the notion to let the mobsters do it themselves. They'd had a grudge against Castro ever since he'd forced them out of the Havana casinos. It was even rumored that Meyer Lansky had put a million-dollar bounty on Castro's head. CIA Director Alien Dulles passed the ball to his deputy director, Richard Bissell. Bissell handed off to the CIA security chief. Colonel Sheffield Edwards. And then I received the call...

Though I'm no saint, I am a religious man, and I knew that the CIA was talking about murder. O'Connell and Edwards contended that it was a war - a just war. They said it was necessary to protect the country. They used the analogy of World War II: if we had known the exact bunker that Hitler was in during the war, we wouldn't have hesitated to kill the bastard. The CIA felt exactly the same way about Castro. If Fidel, his brother Raul, and Che Guevara were assassinated, thousands of lives might be saved.

But in my mind, justified or not, I would still have blood on my hands. I had to think about it. The deal carried a pretty big price tag. I kept thinking about my family. What kind of danger would it put them in? If anything went wrong, I was the fall guy, caught between protecting the government and protecting the mob, two armed camps that could crush me like a bug....

Rosselli's first response was laughter. "Me? You want me to get involved with Uncle Sam? The Feds are tailing me wherever I go. They go to my shirtmaker to see if I'm buying things with cash. They go to my tailor to see if I'm using cash there. They're always trying to get something on me. Bob, are you sure you're talking to the right guy?"

When I finally convinced Rosselli that I was serious, very serious, he sat staring at me, tapping his fingers nervously on the table. I didn't want to pull any punches with the man, so I was totally up-front about the conditions of the deal.

"It's up to you to pick whom you want, but it's got to be set up so that Uncle Sam isn't involved - ever. If anyone connects you with the U.S. government, I will deny it," I told him. "If you say Bob Maheu brought you into this, that I was your contact man, I'll say you're off your rocker, you're lying, you're trying to save your hide. I'll swear by everything holy that I don't know what in hell you're talking about."

Rosselli hesitated at first, but then agreed. Many people have speculated that Johnny was looking for an eventual deal with the government, or some sort of big payoff. The truth, as corny as it may sound, is that down deep he thought it was his "patriotic" duty.

Understand that the world was quite different then. The Cold War was raging. Only months before, Francis Gary Powers had been shot down while flying his U-2 reconnaissance plane over the Soviet Union. The relationship between Washington and Moscow was at an all-time low, with Soviet Premier Khrushchev going so far as to openly call President Eisenhower a liar on several occasions.

Once the decision was made, it didn't take Rosselli long to put his plan into motion. On October 11, 1960, we took off for what would be the first of many trips to Miami. We booked ourselves into the Kenilworth Hotel, selected because Arthur Godfrey did his TV show from there. In Miami, Johnny introduced me to two men who would help us - "Sam Gold" and "Joe." Sam was Johnny's backup man; Joe would be our direct contact in Cuba. These weren't ordinary mob lackeys. Johnny didn't bother to tell me that "Sam" was Sam Giancana, his boss within the Mafia and the chief of its gigantic Chicago operation. Or that "Joe" was Santos Trafficante, former syndicate chief in Havana, and the most powerful Mafia man in the South.

I later learned that Johnny didn't just need a little help from these men, he needed their okay. Trafficante was necessary to get Castro because he had the connections inside Cuba, and Giancana was necessary to get Trafficante, because Trafficante had the stature of a "Godfather," and only a man of equal stature - like Giancana - could approach him for help. Johnny couldn't do it on his own. Both were among the ten most powerful Mafia members - a fact I learned only after seeing their pictures in a magazine soon after meeting them.

(2) House Select Committee on Assassinations (September 28, 1978)

Louis Stokes: In order to operate your casinos in 1957-58, did you have to pay money to Cuban officials to maintain the operation of your casinos?

Santo Trafficante: We had to pay a license of $25,000 a year and we had to give 50 percent of the take of the slot machines.

Louis Stokes: Can you tell us in late 1958, what was the result of the activities of Castro? How did it affect the tourist and gambling business there in Havana?

Santo Trafficante. You are talking about 1958 before Castro came in?

Louis Stokes: Before he came in, yes.

Santo Trafficante: It wasn't too good, Every other day they had bombs and stuff like that. It was nothing.

Louis Stokes: What effect did it have on the gambling business? How did it affect your business?

Santo Trafficante: Because every day there were bombs put in different spots and the first thing you know, even if there were a couple bombs, before the night was over, there were 200, supposedly, rumors, stuff flying around and people would stay home.

Louis Stokes: I suppose that this then caused the casino operators a great deal of concern, did it not?

Santo Trafficante: I suppose so.

Louis Stokes: And was there fear on the part of the operators that if Castro came to power that he would confiscate these businesses?

Santo Trafficante: No.

Louis Stokes: Was there anticipated at all that he might come to power at that time?

Santo Trafficante: Nobody ever dreamt that he would come to power at that time.

Louis Stokes: Did you or any of the other casino operators take any steps to protect your businesses in the event that he would come to power?

Santo Trafficante: No. There was no question about him taking to power. They used to - in the papers when you would read about him, you would read like he was some kind of a bandit.

Louis Stokes: Did you meet Fidel or Raoul Castro prior to January 1, 1959?

Santo Trafficante: No.

Louis Stokes: When Fidel Castro took over, how soon did he order the casinos to be closed?

Santo Trafficante: Well, even before he reached Havana, because he didn't come down from the mountain until after Batista had left, and he had a walkathon, you would call it, from the mountains to Havana, and they kept interviewing him and he kept saying the casinos would close, statements to that effect, the casinos close without even being notified officially to close. Everything was in a turmoil. There was people all over the streets, breaking into homes, there was complete enmity and the only thing at that time was to try and stay alive.

Louis Stokes: After Castro came to power, did you continue to operate your business as usual?

Santo Trafficante: No, everything was closed.

(3) House Select Committee on Assassinations (September 28, 1978)

Louis Stokes: When you left Cuba, where did you next live?

Santo Trafficante: I lived in Miami.

Louis Stokes: Mr. Trafficante, when was the first time you were ever approached by any individual who was affiliated with or working for the CIA?

Santo Trafficante: It was around either the latter part of 1960, or first part of 1961.

Louis Stokes: And can you tell us who was the person who first contacted you?

Santo Trafficante: John Roselli.

Louis Stokes: And where did he approach you?

Santo Trafficante: I think we were in the Fontaine bleau Hotel.

Louis Stokes: And can you give us the date?

Santo Trafficante: No.

Louis Stokes: Can you approximate the time?

Santo Trafficante: I told you it was either the latter part of 1960 or first part of 1961.

Louis Stokes: Did you know Mr. Roselli before that date?

Santo Trafficante: Yes, I had met him.

Louis Stokes: Can you tell us how you knew him?

Santo Trafficante: Well, at this moment I don't remember how I met him but I knew him.

Louis Stokes: And how long had you known him?

Santo Trafficante: I would say about 15 years, 15-16 years.

Louis Stokes: Now, had Mr. Roselli ever had any business interests in Cuba?

Santo Trafficante: No.

Louis Stokes: Over the period of time that you had known him, how often had you and he come into contact?

Santo Trafficante: Very few.

Louis Stokes: Now, did he tell you how he came to be affiliated with the CIA?

Santo Trafficante: No.

Louis Stokes: This first meeting was just between the two of you?

Santo Trafficante: Yes, the first time, yes.

Louis Stokes: Can you tell us the substance of the conversation you had with him?

Santo Trafficante: Well, he told me that CIA and the United States Government was involved in eliminating Castro. And if I would happen, and if Mr. Gener, if Mr. Macho Gener, if I knew about him, knew what kind of man he was. I told him I think he was a good man, he was against Castro anyhow, and that is about it. Then he introduced me to Mr. Maheu, and then Mr. Giancana came into the picture. Mr. Roselli wanted me to be more or less an interpreter in the situation because he couldn't speak Spanish and I can speak Spanish fluently.

Louis Stokes: What was your reaction to killing President Castro?

Santo Trafficante: Well at the time I think that it was a good thing because he had established a communistic base 90 miles from the United States and being that the Government of the United States wanted it done, I go along with it, the same thing as a war, I figure it was like a war.

(4) Louis Stokes, House Select Committee on Assassinations (September 28, 1978)

In 1967, 1971, 1976, and 1977, those 4 years, columnist Jack Anderson wrote about the CIA-Mafia plots and the possibility that Castro decided to kill President Kennedy in retaliation. Mr. Anderson even contends in those articles that the same persons involved in the CIA-Mafia attempts on Castro's life were recruited by Castro to kill President Kennedy. The September 7, 1976 issue of the Washington Post contains one of Mr. Anderson's articles entitled, "Behind John F. Kennedy's Murder," which fully explains Mr. Anderson's position. I ask, Mr. Chairman, that at this point this article be marked as JFK exhibit F-409 and that it be entered into the record at this point.

Mr. Trafficante, I want to read to you just two portions of the article I have just referred to, after which I will ask for your comment. According to Mr. Anderson and Mr. Whitten in this article, it says: Before he died, Roselli hinted to associates that he knew who had arranged President Kennedy's murder. It was the same conspirators, he suggested, whom he had recruited earlier to kill Cuban Premier Fidel Castro. By Roselli's cryptic account, Castro learned the identity of the underworld contacts in Havana who had been trying to knock him off. He believed, not altogether without basis, that President Kennedy was behind the plot. Then over in another section, it says: According to Roselli, Castro enlisted the same underworld elements whom he had caught plotting against him. They supposedly were Cubans from the old Trafficante organization. Working with Cuban intelligence, they allegedly lined up an ex-Marine sharpshooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, who had been active in the pro-Castro movement. According to Roselli's version, Oswald may have shot Kennedy or may have acted as a decoy while others ambushed him from closer range. When Oswald was picked up, Roselli suggested the underworld conspirators feared he would crack and disclose information that might lead to them. This almost certainly would have brought a massive U.S. crackdown on the Mafia. So Jack Ruby was ordered to eliminate Oswald making it appear as an act of reprisal against the President's killer. At least this is how Roselli explained the tragedy in Dallas.

(5) Jack Anderson, Peace, War and Politics: An Eyewitness Account (1999)

The CIA's Sheffield Edwards was supposed to make the contact with the underworld. He approached a former FBI agent and CIA operative, Robert Maheu, who moved at the subterranean level of politics. Maheu knew his way around the shady side of Las Vegas; he had been recruited by billionaire Howard Hughes to oversee his Las Vegas casinos. Happily, Hughes was a friend who owed me a favor. Intermediaries persuaded Maheu to confide in me. He confirmed that the CIA had asked him to sound out the Mafia, strictly off the record, about a contract to hit Fidel Castro. Maheu had taken the request straight to Johnny Rosselli.

Rosselli had a reputation inside the mob as a patriot; he was quite willing to kill for his country. But as he told me, there was an etiquette to be followed in these matters. Santo Trafficante was the godfather-in-exile of Cuba after Castro chased out the mob. Rosselli couldn't even tiptoe through Trafficante's territory without permission, and he couldn't approach Trafficante without a proper introduction. So Rosselli prevailed upon his boss in Chicago, Sam "Momo" Giancana, to attend to the protocol. Since Giancana had godfather status, he could solicit Trafficante's help to eliminate Castro. The project appealed to Giancana who had commiserated with other dons over the loss of casino revenues in Havana. Killing Castro for the government would settle some old scores for the mob, and it would put Uncle Sam in the debt of the Mafia.

Maheu had been ordered to keep a tight lid on the involvement of the U.S. government. The CIA was ready with a cover story that the Castro hit had been arranged by disgruntled American businessmen who had been bounced out of their Cuban enterprises by Castro.

On September 25, I960, Maheu brought two CIA agents to a suite at the Fountainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. Rosselli delivered two sinister mystery men whom he introduced only as Sicilians named "Sam" and "Joe." In fact, they were two of the Mafia's most notorious godfathers, Sam Giancana and Santo Trafficante, both on the FBI's ten-most-wanted list. They discussed the terms of Castro's demise, with Giancana suggesting that the usual mob method of a quick bullet to the head be eschewed in favor of something more delicate, like poison.

The wily Giancana was less interested in bumping off Castro than in scoring points with the federal government, and he intended to call in as many chips as he could before the game was over.

(6) In 1989 David E. Scheim was asked by Blaine Taylor who killed President John F. Kennedy.

The three people are Carlos Marcello, the Mafia boss of New Orleans... The second figure is Santo Trafficante, who was the Mafia boss at Tampa, Florida. The third is Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters' boss who was killed... Like Carlos Marcello, each of the other two had spoken openly of assassination plots against the Kennedys, and this all occurred in the summer months of 1962. All three of them were very close friends, and, when we look at Jack Ruby's telephone records, we find an astonishing peak in the number of out-of-state calls in the months before the assassination - it's actually 25-fold greater than in the month of the previous January. Most of those calls are to organized crime figures, in particular to top associates of Marcello, Trafficante, and Hoffa.

(7) Frank Ragano, Mob Lawyer (1994)

Of the Mafia trio, only Roselli testified before the State committee. On July 19, 1975, the night before he was going to be questioned by committee members, Sam Giancana was preparing a supper... when a person he evidently trusted and had invited to share the meal ended his life by firing a .22 caliber handgun equipped with silencer into the back of his head. The killer followed up by discharging six more rounds into Giancana's neck and mouth.

Some organized-crime experts theorized that Giancana's murder was unrelated to the Senate inquiry, and that he was killed by rivals to stop him from regaining supremacy of Chicago's Mafia clan. From what I had picked up over the years about mob executions, the nature of Giancana's death contradicts that theory. In a traditional Mafia hit, a bullet in the throat signifies that the victim had been 'talking,' and a bullet in the mouth means he will never 'rat' again. Undoubtedly, Giancana was murdered to prevent him from talking about the CIA-Castro plot or any other Mafia secret.

Almost exactly on the first anniversary of Giancana's death, another layer of mystery was added to the coincidence of his slaying and the Senate's CIA investigation. After years of seemingly cooperating with congressional committees and talking rather freely with newspaper columnists about Mafia affairs, Johnny Roselli became extremely cautious, almost reclusive...

In late July 1976, Roselli made a dinner date. He was seen with his old friend Santo Trafficante at The Landings, a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Two days after dining with Santo, Roselli disappeared.

Twelve days later, on August 7, 1976, a fifty gallon drum containing the legless body of a silver-haired man... The corpse was Johnny Roselli.

The manner of Roselli's death also fit a Mafia pattern. He was beguiled to his death by someone he trusted. The dumping of his body in the bay was another message: The killers either wanted to give the impression that he had deliberately vanished or they wanted to punish his relatives for his misdeeds, perhaps his violation of omerta...

One fact, however, was indisputable: Santo Trafficante was the only survivor of the three mobsters recruited by the CIA to kill Fidel Castro.

(8) Robert D. Morrow, First Hand Knowledge (1992)

The execution of John F. Kennedy would be performed by a series of teams selected from CIA-sponsored exile and mercenary groups in Miami and New Orleans. The modus operandi to be employed would be very simple. The murder of the President of the United States could not resemble a standard syndicate killing. It should, ideally, be made to look as if it were the work of a lone gunman. As a sure kill could not be guaranteed by the work of only one gunman, two additional firing sites would be necessary.

The next item to pursue was the involvement of Fidel Castro. Trafficante planned the scenario. He would act as a double agent and, through an intermediary, warn Castro that the CIA, under presidential directive, would execute another assassination attempt on the Cuban dictator. Trafficante would then select two expendable subordinates who would be set up to murder Castro. The hitmen, under the impression they were actually working for the CIA, would be caught by Castro and reveal, after having been tortured, the identity of their supposed employer. As further evidence of their CIA affiliation, they would be equipped with assassination items readily identifiable with the clandestine agency. With both this evidence and the confessions of the hitmen, Fidel Castro would undoubtedly make a statement indicating his desire for revenge against the United States government. After the death of JFK, Castro's statement would be viewed as evidence of his complicity in the President's assassination.

Now that the actual plan for the assassination of JFK had been completed, it was time to find the players to fit the designated roles. To this end, Trafficante sent out word to the Mafia families and clearly detailed his requirements for personnel, armaments, communications and management of the two-phased operation.

David Ferrie received word of Trafficante's requirements and suggested Lee Harvey Oswald for the role of lone gunman in the assassination scenario. Oswald was the perfect patsy and fit all the requirements established to render the assassination a non syndicate hit: he was supposedly a liberal political activist with no traceable mob connections and presently residing in New Orleans - Marcello's home territory. Trafficante chose Rolando Masferrer, a Cuban mercenary closely associated with Kohly and del Vane, to assist in the implementation of the JFK assassination scheme. Masferrer would both coordinate and finance the assigned Kennedy hit teams, one of which would include John Michael Mertz. The staged Castro assassination attempt was coordinated by Tony Verona, "Prio" Socarras' former prime minister. To legitimize the Castro assassination attempt as a CIA operation, Trafficante had John Roselli report Verona's dispatch of a Castro assassination team to the CIA. The team's existence was leaked to Castro via Trafficante's use of a Cuban attorney named Carlos Garcia Bongo."

Trafficante's plan worked. On September 7, 1963, Fidel Castro told Associated Press reporter Dan Harker that the United States was assisting terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders. He added a warning to his statement, maintaining that, if this continued, U.S. leaders could find their own lives in jeopardy.

Although Trafficante and Ferrie maintained vigilant security precautions while both planning and staffing the JFK operation, their secrecy was breached. J. Edgar Hoover learned of both the contract on JFK and the ensuing plot to assassinate him. His method of securing the information was through FBI surveillance of the Trafficante organization and paid FBI informants. A Cuban Mafia member told a wealthy Cuban exile, Jose Aleman of Miami, that Trafficante felt indebted to Aleman's cousin, and wanted to reciprocate by helping Aleman solve the cash problems he was having trying to build a new motel. Trafficante said Jimmy Hoffa had already cleared a loan for Aleman from the Teamster's Pension Fund.