The FBI initially thought Kansas City was a minor satellite Mafia family with ties to the Chicago Outfit. By the time former FBI agent William Ouseley retired, he had claimed the Kansas City connection was some of the most violent mobsters in the nation. At the helm of the chaos was a polite, very conservative man named Nick Civella, but be forewarned, looks can be deceiving.
Guiseppe Nicoli Civella was born on March 19, 1912, to immigrant parents in Kansas City. His first arrest came at the age of ten, and by the age of twenty, he had amassed quite a rap sheet. In the early 1940’s Civella was a precinct worker for the Democratic Party on the north side of Kansas City. It was here that Nick would befriend the local mob boss, Charles Binaggio.
When Binaggio was killed on April 5, 1950, Civella was the man to step up and take his place as boss. For the next twenty-seven years, the Kansas City political machine was infiltrated by the Civella Crime Family. The gangsters worked for the politicians and bought some protection.
In 1959, this protection scheme became obvious when Civella was summoned before a grand jury and eventually convicted of tax evasion. Although he was convicted, Civella received a fine of $150 for one case, and the other case was dropped completely. This type of power brought on more violence in the streets.
The local political machine might protect Nick Civella from tax evasion charges, but it couldn’t protect him from the FBI. On November 14, 1957, mobsters from around the United States gathered at the home of Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara in Apalachin, New York. They were there to discuss various aspects of mob business, and Civella was one of two representatives from Kansas City.
This infamous raid not only ended up in over sixty high ranking mobsters being detained, but it also confirmed the existence of an otherwise secret organization. Up until this event, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had vehemently denied the existence of the Italian Mafia.
Although he was on the FBI’s radar, it would take another twenty years before the boss was brought down. In 1977, Civella was caught by wiretaps. During the Super Bowl, the police now had recordings of his illegal gambling operations. He would be sent to prison this time, and although he didn’t receive a life sentence from a judge, it would turn out to be just that.
Nick Civella was released from the Federal Medical Center in Springfield, Missouri, on February 28, 1983. He died on Saturday, March 12, 1983. He was seventy years old. Civella was one of the few mobsters to die of natural causes.
For more information on the Kansas City Mafia, check out fellow crime writer Gary Jenkins and his Gangland Wire Podcast.
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