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Reputed Crime Boss Dies at 72

March 18, 1987

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Santo Trafficante Jr., one of the last of the old-time reputed Mafia dons, has died at at the age of 72.

Henry Gonzalez of Tampa, a longtime friend and attorney, said Trafficante died late Tuesday at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, where he had gone for heart surgery. Gonzalez said he didn’t immediately have any other details.

″At the request of his family, no information at all will be released,″ said Patti Jamison, spokeswoman for the Heart Institute.

Trafficante is survived by his wife of 46 years, Josephine, two daughters and four grandchildren.

Trafficante’s Sicilian-born father allegedly presided over what federal authorities call Tampa’s ″era of blood,″ when rival crime families fought for control of lucrative Florida gambling from 1937 to 1945. When his father died in 1954, Trafficante took over the family business, according to testimony before a U.S. Senate committee in 1963.

Over the years, the younger Trafficante was linked to at least four gangland slayings and testified about a plot to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro, but he escaped lengthy jail terms.

A federal judge last July dismissed racketeering-conspiracy charges against Trafficante in a case that grew out of a $2 million FBI sting undercover gambling investigation. Trafficante was accused of giving permission to underworld organizations in Florida to run gambling operations, in return for a share of the profits.

But the judge declared a mistrial after refusing to admit the key prosecution evidence, tape-recorded conversations between Trafficante and a mob figure who had been found dead with his hands cut off.

Still pending against Trafficante was a 1981 Miami indictment charging him with participating in a kickback scheme to bilk millions of dollars from a health and welfare fund set up for Laborers International Union of North America.

Trafficante lived modestly, with homes in Tampa and North Miami Beach, and suffered from myriad health problems in his later years. Attorneys cited his heart, kidney and memory problems in gaining delays of his trial.

His attorneys said government allegations that Trafficante was Florida’s ″boss of bosses″ and a leader of La Cosa Nostra were sensational exaggerations.

″All of this business about 500 soldiers and all the rest. It’s laughable, really,″ Tampa attorney Frank Ragano said during the trial last year.

Trafficante was among 57 alleged mobsters arrested when authorities broke up an apparent underworld convention in Apalachin, N.Y., in 1957. Those charges were later dropped.

Also that year, Trafficante was questioned about the death of Albert Anastasia, a maverick who headed a group dubbed ″Murder Inc.″ Anastasia’s throat was slashed while he sat in a hotel barber chair. Trafficante had checked out of the New York hotel earlier in the day, but he was never charged.

Throughout rounds of gangland wars, Trafficante suffered only an arm wound from a 1953 shotgun blast fired into his car. Cuban police in the 1950s said they intercepted four would-be mob assassins.

In 1978, appearing before a House panel looking into assassinations of political figures, Trafficante said he participated in an alleged CIA assassination plot against Castro because ″I thought I was helping the United States government.″

Trafficante, who was granted immunity to testify, said he did nothing more than provide English and Spanish translations for others involved in the 1960 plot.

He said he had been approached by gangster Johnny Roselli, whose body was found in a metal drum in Biscayne Bay in 1976. Another mob figure in the plot, Sam Giancana, was shot to death in Chicago in 1975.

Trafficante denied there was any mob plot to kill President John Kennedy, despite testimony that Trafficante had once promised that Kennedy wouldn’t be re-elected. The reputed mob boss supposedly had railed against the crackdown by the Kennedy administration on organized crime.

Trafficante had operated casinos in Havana until Castro’s 1959 revolution. Castro outlawed gambling and, Trafficante testified, he was held in ″sort of a concentration camp″ for two months before he was allowed to return to the United States in 1959.

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