All in the Family Frank Balistrieri’s Milwaukee Mafia
During last year’s filming of Public Enemies, a film depicting the true story of FBI agent Melvin Purvis’ attempt to apprehend criminals John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson and Pretty Boy Floyd, many Wisconsinites learned for the first time that our state has a history of playing host to infamous outlaws. Wooded and rural, Wisconsin was a popular getaway for Chicago-based gangsters because of its isolation. Milwaukee, on the other hand, was already home to some of the American Mafia’s elite, powerful men, including Frank Balistrieri.
As a young man, “Frankie Bal” started working for the Milwaukee La Cosa Nostra (LCN) family, which owed allegiance to the Chicago Outfit, a powerful criminal syndicate in the city of Chicago that has a near-monopoly on traditional organized crime in the Midwest.
By the time Balistrieri succeeded his father-in-law, John Alioto, as the new boss of the Milwaukee LCN family in 1961, he had a sizable loan shark book, vast control over illegal sports betting and a tight hold on the vending machine market. Conducting his business from a table at Snug’s restaurant in the Shorecrest Hotel, Frankie Bal was the man who put the Milwaukee Mafia on the map.
In 1967, Frank Balistrieri was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to two years at a federal penitentiary in Minnesota. In 1978, the FBI infiltrated the Milwaukee Mafia by planting an undercover agent as the owner of a vending machine company. After a long investigation, Balistrieri and his two sons, Joe and John, went to federal prison in 1984, convicted for their involvement in an illegal vending machine racket.
The following year, Frank was convicted again, this time in Kansas City with eight other associates for skimming hundreds of thousands of dollars from the counting rooms of three Las Vegas casinos they secretly owned.
It is believed that Balistrieri’s 10-year prison sentence, which ran concurrently with his 13-year sentence from 1984, thwarted his appointment to the ruling Mafia Commission in New York. After serving 7 years, he was released from prison in 1991. On Feb. 7, 1993, Frank Balistrieri died of a heart attack at the age of 74.
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