Chapter 1: Giovani Cado
Tell us about your life, beginning with where you are from and how you became affiliated with the Mafia.
My name is Giovani Cado, but my family called me Johnny, and my friends usually just called me Cado. I was born in Sicily in 1899, so I guess that makes me one hundred and forty-seven years old. Not bad lookin’ for such an old man, right?
When I was just ten years old, my father was murdered because of a vendetta or something like that. I’m not sure what that was all about, but my mother and I moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, shortly thereafter.
I loved New Orleans. My greatest desire is to return there one day, but that ain’t looking so good about now. There was always a way to make an easy buck in the Big Easy. My best friend was Carlos. We made a good team, working together scamming tourists in the French Quarter. We became excellent pickpockets.
We learned at an early age that the Italian section of the Quarter was run by a man of honor, a man to respect: Don Matranga. Everybody either worked for the Don or paid him for protection.
By the time we were twelve or thirteen, Carlos and I were paid to break storefront windows of merchants who were behind in their payments to the Don.
When we were sixteen, we divided our time between making money and making it with broads. The Quarter had a steady stream of drunk gals willing to let us take a load off - drunk college gals & drunk country gals visiting the big city, and even married women whose husbands were passed out drunk or chasing other tail. Sometimes we would have two, even three different broads in one night. Then we got smart and started collecting from the husbands to find them some tail, and sometimes while they were off banging hookers, we would bang their wives. It was great.
As we got older, petty scams and picking pockets wasn’t providing enough for us anymore, so Carlos and I began committing house burglaries. We would mostly steal cash and jewelry but sometimes we got lucky and would hit a house with guns too.
People began to notice us. We weren’t flashy, but we spent so much time in the Quarter, seemingly without a care in the world, often with women, that locals began to speculate about how we made our living. Italians—and Sicilians in particular—who had money but no apparent job were assumed to belong to a family.”
Are you referring to an organized crime family?
Yeah, that’s right. Anyway, the younger boys began to make us out to be local heroes, but our reputations exceeded our real exploits.
One day, Carlos and I were hanging out down at the Flea Market, by Café du Monde, when we saw an opportunity to steal some jewelry. We went straight to this popular sandwich place called Arnaud’s to divide our earnings. We sat in a booth by the window so that we could watch folks stroll by.
I can still remember that I had just ordered a shrimp po’boy and Carlos had ordered a crawfish po’boy, when we were unexpectedly joined by a couple of slightly older wise guys. They didn’t introduce themselves before sitting, so Carlos, who had a Napoleon complex, being so short an’ all—he was so short, that he later became known as The Little Man—anyway, he didn’t like the aggressive nature of those two; sitting down with us uninvited and all.
I know—knew Carlos very well and knew that even though he was short, he was very capable of cracking those guys across their noses with our beer glasses at any moment, but I caught a glimpse of a gun holstered underneath the coat of the big burly guy sitting next to Carlos. I reached across the table and touched Carlos’s forearm to get his attention. He could tell from the look I gave him that I wanted him to stay calm.
Like Carlos and me, these guys looked Sicilian. The guy next to me was first to speak: “Good afternoon Carlos and Johnny. Can we buy ya’ll a beer?”
That gesture made me feel better, but I held up my beer glass to say, “Thanks, but we have full glasses.”
Carlos wasn’t as polite: “How the fuck do you guys know our names? And what’s the meaning of this—this sitting down at our table, uninvited?”
“Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Sam, but my friends call me Silver Dollar Sam.”
"I don't give a fuck if you are Samty Claus!"
But then I told Carlos in a calming tone: “Let’s listen to what they have to say.”
Then Silver Dollar Sam told Carlos: “You have a reasonable partner.”
“OK, so what are ya, cops or something?” Carlos asked sarcastically. He knew these guys weren’t cops—in fact, everyone in the quarter knew of Silver Dollar Sam. He was the Don’s underboss.
The big burly guy blurted: “You know we ain’t no fucking cops!”
Silver Dollar Sam held up a hand as if to tell the big guy to shut up and said: “No, we ain’t cops, but we do have an understanding with the cops.”
Carlos was still agitated: “Yeah, what kind of understanding?”
“Relax Carlos. We are here to make you a business proposition.”
This got our attention. “We’re listening,” I said.
“You’ve attracted the attention of my boss, who has an understanding with the authorities that we can run our businesses without interference, but we don’t steal from New Orleans’s influential citizens. You boys have graduated from picking pockets to house burglaries, and that’s bad for our business if you burglarize the wrong house.”
I spoke up before Carlos could respond: “We aren’t saying that we’ve done anything but for the sake of conversation, how could anything that we do affect your business?”
The big guy spoke again: “Because you’re Sicilian, you dumb shit.”
Holding his open hand up, palm facing the big guy, Silver Dollar Sam said: “Forgive my associate. He forgets that his job description doesn’t include speaking…but yes, because you are Sicilian, people assume that you are part of our organization, and that means we are responsible for your actions. So the way I see it, we have two choices. You can work for us.”
I asked: “What’s the other option?”
Carlos answered my question for Silver Dollar Sam: “They kill us.”
“We will take the first option,” I said, smiling.
Silver Dollar Sam reached into the inside of his coat pocket making Carlos and me flinch. We were relieved to see that he did not pull out a gun but an envelope, which he plopped down in front of Carlos, saying: “Good choice.”
Carlos and I looked at one another, each waiting for the other to reach for the envelope.
“Go ahead. Open it. The two of you decide among yourselves how to split it,” Silver Dollar Sam said.
Carlos picked up the envelope and opened it. It was filled with hundred-dollar bills. He thumbed through the bills, and then asked, “What is this for?”
Silver Dollar Sam answered: “It’s an advance. You now work for the Matranga family…and that means that you do what we tell you. You always look after the family’s interests. No more burglaries in Orleans Parish unless you receive direct orders from me. We pay you this set amount every week; in return you serve as enforcers. You will learn what that entails in time. You may also serve as earners. It’s my job to show you the ropes. I’m responsible for you.”
“There is a thousand dollars in here,” Carlos proclaimed. That was more than we made in a good month.
“Monday morning…you are going to work a legit job…unloading banana boats and delivering crates of bananas around the Quarter for Sam the banana man. That will be your cover, if anyone ever asks how you make your living. Got it?”
Our po’boys were delivered by the waitress. Silver Dollar Sam and the big guy stood up. And that’s how we were inducted into the Mob, which you guys call the Mafia, these days.