Pietro Giuseppe Licavoli

Pietro Giuseppe Licavoli (June 7, 1902 – January 11, 1984) was born in St. Louis to immigrants from the Sicilian town of Favarotta or more commonly known as Terrasini. He was the eldest of three siblings and when he was old enough for education and into his teens was a bright and promising student. He moved to Detroit, Michigan. He controlled criminal operations in Detroit and Toledo, Ohio, throughout the Prohibition era.

His parents had hoped that one day he would become a success as a legitimate citizen and branch off into possibly being a doctor or a lawyer. But alas for his mother and father, Pietro never showed the slightest interest in anything but the fast and dangerous life of crime.

  Peter Joseph Licavoli

Pietro learned to speak yiddish as a child, a skill which often endeared him to his jewish partners. He worked in gambling and bootlegged liquor,  but later employed the experiences  learned from his childhood growing up amongst the Jewish community in St. Louis. 

Because of this Pietro never conveyed the clanish behavior that marked so many of the other racketeers of Italian descent during prohibition. Pietro had his first brush with the police when he was picked up in 1916 for stealing two pairs of shoes.

Peter Joseph Licavoli

This charge was followed by a series of other arrests for relatively minor offences none which resulted in serious trouble for him. Whilst his younger brother Yonnie had compiled a lengthy arrest record by the age of twenty, Pietro remained a relatively unknown commodity in St. Louis as far as the local law enforcement were concerned and this continued until he moved to Detroit, Michigan. 

Now exactly when he arrived in Detroit is uncertain but most gangster historians place it circa 1925. Not long after Peter as he would now been known started the Licavoli operation and started setting about organizing the gang's involvement into liquor smuggling. Because they were a faction of the St. Louis chapter of the Unione Sicilione, the Licavolis were welcomed into Detroit by Salvatore Catalanotte.

They were given the exclusive rights to the Downriver section which consisted of the city of Wyandotte. Stories soon spread of Peter Licavoli standing on the deck of an incoming ship or out on the dock personally supervising the landing of the gang's liquor shipments and this increased his reputation amongst other rumrunners who between them conducted their business through the Pascuzzi Combine. 

The Downriver Gang were soon recognized as one of the most successful and best organized rumrunning operations in the country.

In 1944, Peter left the Toledo-Detroit area for Arizona, living on Grace Ranch near Tucson, Arizona until his death in 1984. It is said that Peter was a very generous man who gave to the unfortunate unconditionally. Self-educated and blessed with high intellect he was also the inventor and trailblazer for many business models that are being used today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I got a sneakin' feelin' my Gpa came to AZ with the Licavoli crew in the 1940s. Rolled out of Youngstown. Gpa was known as Fast Eddie, and Uncle Bobby was in with the racing crowd. Owned his own auto shop. They say Uncle B left a chop shop behind, but not to his kidz. It must have been a "family" project.


This old man goes on forever, but there are some real gems in this stack of dry wood. Talk about some outrageous stories! Is he saying Carl Hayden could NOT get AT&T to install phones at his trailer park (a notorious vice zone near the airbase), but Joe Bonanno had twenty five put in overnight after this old man agreed to quit the defunct Dem Machine and tuneup with the GOP's new stumpies (Goldwater Mafia)? This is the 1960s. OR was Bonanno saying Joe R needs to choose a Tucson Don, either him or Horseface?

That trailer park where this Old Joe said someone could have drowned there and no way to call for help as he pleaded for a connection? I nearly did. I can still see Uncle Bob laughing s he dragged me out of the deep end. Across the highway from Chitwood's, the most racy placey to spin a wheel in the basement while your kidz go down the drinky drain.

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