FBI Report Paints Steelers Patriarch as Underworld Gambling Boss
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Art Rooney Sr. never tried to hide the fact that he was a gambler, even when he was questioned by the FBI.
But secret files made public decades later show the federal government was keeping tabs on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ patriarch and unidentified informants linked the lovable, cigar-chomping franchise chief with western Pennsylvania’s underworld.
The files, made public last month and examined by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, deal mostly with organized crime _ particularly two brothers from New Kensington: Samuel and Gabriel ``Kelly″ Mannarino. In 1961, then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover declared them among the top 10 mobsters in the nation.
In an FBI report dated Oct. 29, 1946, a confidential informant said Rooney, some unidentified associates and a group headed by the Mannarinos owned slot machines in the Pittsburgh area.
``Under an agreement between these organizations, Rooney operated all slot machines north of the Allegheny River and the Mannarino brothers operated those south of the river,″ the report said.
In another document, which was heavily censored, an informant reported Rooney obtained slot machines long before the local Mafia boss, Sebastian John LaRocca, ``and (Rooney) controlled the entire Pittsburgh vicinity in this regard.″
For his part, Rooney gave FBI agents an interview in April 1959 and detailed his knowledge of Pittsburgh gambling. Though he said he only knew about the Mafia from media reports, he described in detail how bookmaking operations made money.
Dan Rooney said his father, who died in August 1988, never mentioned the FBI’s interest in his activities.
``There’s no question that my father did own horses and wager on them, but that is the only thing that I know,″ Dan Rooney said. ``And he may have known the people that you mention.″
He said he was stunned to discover the FBI kept the records for so long.
``It’s one of those things you look at and you feel that it isn’t so. ... The real question is why did the FBI keep that report,″ he said.
Local legend has it that the elder Rooney bought the Steelers in 1933 with $2,500 he won at a race track, a story Dan Rooney now debunks.
In his 1959 interview, Rooney said it was well-known that he was closely aligned with the city’s gambling element, though he limited his own gambling to horse racing and was aware of the dangers of sports betting.
``Rooney commented that the gambling in this regard is so heavy that it sometimes `frightens’ him and that it is a constant worry to him,″ FBI agents wrote.