SANTO TRAFFICANTE, REPUTED LEADER OF ORGANIZED CRIME IN FLA.; AT 72
TAMPA, Fla. -- Santo Trafficante Jr., one of the last of the old-time reputed Mafia dons, has died at the age of 72.
Henry Gonzalez of Tampa, Mr. Trafficante's longtime friend and attorney, said Mr. Trafficante died late Tuesday at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston, where he had gone for heart surgery.
Mr. 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, Mr. Trafficante took over the family business, according to testimony before a US Senate committee in 1963.
Over the years, the younger Mr. Trafficante was linked to at least four gangland slayings and testified about a plot to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro. But Mr. Traficante escaped lengthy jail terms.
A federal judge last July dismissed racketeering and conspiracy charges against Mr. Trafficante in a case that grew out of a $2 million FBI sting undercover gambling investigation. Mr. 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 Mr. Trafficante and a mob figure who had been found dead with his hands cut off.
Still pending against Mr. 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.
Mr. Trafficante lived modestly, with homes in Tampa and North Miami Beach, and suffered from many 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 Mr. Trafficante was Florida's "boss of bosses" and a leader of La Cosa Nostra were sensational exaggerations.
Mr. 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, Mr. 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. Mr. Trafficante was never charged in relation to that crime.
Throughout rounds of gangland wars, Mr. 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, Mr. Trafficante said he participated in an alleged CIA assassination plot against Castro because "I thought I was helping the United States government."
Mr. Trafficante denied there was any mob plot to kill President John F. Kennedy.
There has been testimony that Mr. Trafficante once promised that Kennedy would not be re-elected.
Mr. Trafficante leaves his wife, Josephine, two daughters and four grandchildren.