What do you get when a deconstructionist joins the mafia ?

An offer you can't understand.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Counterfeit Sam Sorbara

In Italo-Canadian newspaper obituaries of Woodbridge developer Sam Sorbara, who died in 2002, reference is made to an unjust sentence that Sam served in 1935 over a stolen $10 bill. Sorbara is quoted as saying that it was because he was an Italian immigrant that he spent so long in jail on the strength of a store clerk's evidence. Taking the story at eulogic face value, and accounting for inflation, Sam Sorbara spent three years in jail for a a crime he barely committed.
According to newspaper death report versions, Sam was the son of Domenico, a miner from San Giorgio Morgeto who got a job working the nickel in Sudbury, Ontario in 1924. The eulogists say that in 1927, 16 year old Sam and his mother Pasqualina and other siblings immigrated to join Domenic. Domenic however, was an alcoholic and soon the family's 'gladness turned to despair'. Two years after their arrival, Domenic wass said to have died and the family survived through the kindness of relatives in Guelph.
The eulogic version of Sam Sorbara's life is something of a fairy-tale; certainly, the crime bears only a passing resemblance to what actually happened in 1935 and earlier.
Domenic Sorbara was born in San Giorgio Morgeto around 1886, and first came to Canada in May of 1912 at the age of 26, when he arrived at one of Albert Dini's boarding houses at 116 York Street, Toronto. (His son Sam had been born the previous year.) His wife, Pasqualina Nasso, was the daughter of Angelo Nasso and Angela Fazzari, also of San Giorgio.
Domenic Sorbara had one brother, (Michael, Toronto) and they had three sisters, all of whom either stayed in Italy or went back, Annunziata, Mrs. M.A Nasso, and Mrs. V. Mammoliti. Domenic and his siblings were cousins of the Michael Sorbara who who had been associated with mobsters in both Welland and Guelph since at least 1910.
In 1912, Domenic Sorbara, Greg's grandfather, traveled to Albert Dini's boarding house at 57 York Street Toronto, where he listed his cousins, Michaelangelo and Salvatore as his contacts.
Domenic Sorbara appears to have gone back to Italy, at least once, possibly twice, to see his family (Sam had one younger sibling born before Sam's mother Pasqualina Nasso arrived in Canada with 14 year old Salvatore and 3 1/2 year old Vincenzo in May of 1925.)

There are two major problems with Sam Sorbara's 2002 eulogy, i) while Domenico Sorbara and Pasqualina Nasso were naturalized in Guelph on September 24 1925 there is no record for a Domenic Sorbara in the index to the Records of Deaths for Ontario from 1924 to 1933, there is however, an obituary for an 81 year old Domenic Sorbara of Sandringham St. Toronto, who died on December 5 1965: he had a son named Sam, and he had three other children with the same names as Sam's siblings, Dr Jim (Vincenzo) Sorbara and Violet - Mrs. Michael Simmonetta, and Angela - Mrs Frank Paul.
The Domenic who died in 1965 also had "a loving wife" identified as the late Pasqualina Nasso. And while there may be no Ontario death record for a Domenic Sorbara between 1924 and 1933, there is one for Pasqualina Nasso of Guelph who caught pneumonia in the last days of 1932 and died on December 31st, so that her death was registered on January 2 1933. The family member who officially identified her body was her son, Sam Sorbara of 91 Morris.
Perhaps Domenic, the alcoholic father, like so many other alcoholics, died out of his family long before he died out of time so that by 2002, when Sam died, the old man was just another ghost in the family machine.
The official version of the legend of Sam Sorbara states that after the so-called "loss of his father," Sam, not yet twenty, dutifully helped his mother look after the family. But since it wasn't Sam's father who had died and left him in charge of the family, but his 42 year-old mother, it is probable that Sam spent the next few years dwelling on his father's character and on the role of his father in his family misfortunes. It was a bad time to be an angry young man, even in a town like Guelph, Ontario: between the Depression, the rise of fascism and the allure of the gangster culture that had established itself so strongly in his neighbourhood and among his relations and associates, it was not improbable for him to end up in trouble with the law.
Sam and his father clearly had a longer, more complicated relationship than the "legend" of Domenic's death by drunkenness would suggest. Sam continued to live at 91 Morris, whether Domenic remained there is unclear. Presumably, after his mother's death the year he had turned 21, Sam moved out, or threw his father out, and continued to look after his brother and sisters, with or without Domenic's help. Possibly, there were periods of sobriety, and maybe even periods when the family lived under one roof.
The more serious misrepresentation of Sam Sorbara's life according to his official legend published in the online News of Italy Press, after his death, was that back in 1935 Sam had been thrown into jail for 24 months - an "unjust confinement" - for embezzling $10 from a store clerk because of a misunderstanding based on his poor English. To me it is highly unlikely that a 14 year old boy didn't learn street English aplenty between 1925 and 1935. His "unjust confinement" however, was actually a stay in the federal penitentiary in Kingston, and his crime of ripping off a store clerk for $10 was in reality tied to a counterfeiting ring involving Hamilton friends.
But to finish with the official legend, when Sam got out, he had learned that 'a man does not judge himself by his misfortunes but by the ways in which he is fortunate.'
Sam was certainly fortunate in those who wrote his obituaries and eulogies.
It wasn't his first time in court either, he had had a previous conviction, although for what crime isn't clear.
There was a case on August 21 of 1933 when a Sam Sorbara Jr. was charged with receiving stolen goods and with breaking and entering but the charges against him were withdrawn, so there was no conviction and if that Sam Jr, really was Sam Jr then he was probably the son of Sam and Rosina Sciarrone. Rosina's husband had been naturalized on April 12 1922, when that Sam was listed a storekeeper in Guelph.
It is possible Greg's grandfather had also been arrested in August of 1933, because that month the Mercury had reported that Domenic Sorbara of 91 Morris Street had been convicted of keeping liquor for sale and had been sentenced to 2 months in jail.
On August 4, a Domenic Sorbara Jr. had been in court for breaking, entering and theft of Mr. Borin's store. It is possible that Mike Sorbara's brother Domenic was still living in Guelph and had a son named Domenic but it could have just been the Mercury doing what it did in the 1934 death coverage of the six year old son of Domenic Silvestro, who was at first identified as Domenic, but later correctly identified as Salvatore/Sam.
So perhaps the Borin theft was done by a "Domenic Jr." who was actually Pasqualina's son Sam. Perhaps not. Unfortunately, the case was adjourned while the crown looked into laying a fourth charge under the Excise Act. The court had also wanted clarification on Domenic J.'s naturalization status, since he had also been charged with possession of firearms, which only naturalized citizens had legally been able to do since the First World War. After the initial police court report, the case falls out of the Merc. There is no naturalization record for a Domenic Jr. or for a Sam or Salvatore Sorbara between 1925 and 1932 listed on the federal archives website.

The $10 story began on Saturday April 20 1935, when a 23 year old Sam Sorbara went to Toronto with Guelphites Domenic Belcastro, 27 and Cosmo Carere, 25, along with two friends of theirs from Hamilton, Domenic Pugliese 33 and Sam Romeo, 24.
The Romeos were cousins of Rocco Perri's. Pugliese, the eldest of the $10 group, along with Tony Papalia, father of Johnny Pops, had been a suspect in the murder of Bessie Starkman back in 1930, although no charges had been laid against either man. Pugliese had married Johnny's sister Antoinetta and his Pugliesi heirs are still one of the most important mob families in Hamilton.
Cosmo Carere was identified as "the former heavy weight champion". His cemetery record says that he was born in 1909. He was the son of Giacomo Carere and Catherine (nee Carere). Cosmo was also the nephew of George Carere, the man whom Chief Randall had accused in 1910 of terrorizing the Italian community in the Ward. Cosmo would soon gain and keep a similar reputation in Guelph until his death in 1991.
Carere had one other previous, adult conviction, involving the placing and leaving of a railway hand-car on a train track, which sounds more like an engineering student stunt, albeit a potentially dangerous one, but Cosmo was sentenced for the crime. Perhaps he and his associates were trying to rob a train. It could be that he learned to box in jail. The case was only mentioned in passing within the context of the 1935 counterfeiting story.
Domenic Belcastro we first met blowing up his and Gaspar Nocitra's stores. This is not the last time we'll meet him either, since he appeared to have been the police's chief suspect in the murder of Sam Labatti two years later.
The story carried in the newspapers that April in 1935 is that phony American ten dollar bills had been showing up in Toronto, Hamilton and Guelph for three weeks prior to the arrest.
The five caught that day were so obviously part of something larger that the case can't be seen to have been about “poor Italians” hated by Anglo authorities except by viewing it through off-coloured glasses. The storeowners were small business owners struggling through the Depression and through the shock waves of the political troubles in Europe no less than were Italians. In fact, they were Jewish merchants.
A lifelong Conservative, Sam Sorbara's sympathies were with a Canadian political party in which large portions of it supported fascism in the 1930's, a reality we'll come back to in the chapter on the 1940's.
The fact that Sam and his friends chose a Jewish section of the city to scam during a period of heightened anti-Semitism doesn't sound as good as the biographers' stories of poor, oppressed Italians so perhaps that's why it was left out.
However, since Sam Sorbara was the youngest of the gang that day, and was clearly troubled, arguably he just happened to find himself in bad company at a bad time of his life. The involvement of Pugliese and Romeo was probably the real reason he went to the penitentiary for two years: Pugliese was just too well connected for the scam to have been anything but mob activity, and once the police had someone that the courts could make an example of, they did.
In any event, it seems that Sorbara and Carere had gone into a store on College Street and then tried to pass off a phony $10 American bill to a hatter named Israel Rotman, who took one look at it and handed it back to Carere. The two left angry and went down the street to a bakery, where they managed to pass it off to a clerk named Annie Geary, who worked for a man named Sam Garfinkle.
Rotman watched the two come out of the store and then went to the bakery himself to see if they had passed the bill. They had. When Rotman told Geary she went outside and saw Sorbara and Carere get into a car and drive off. She got the plate number. They must have seen her behind them as they pulled out, and probably saw Rotman too, because a short while later, down on King, near Dufferin, they appear to have come to the conclusion that they were going to get nabbed, so they tossed a parcel out the window, which was noticed by a man on the street. Kenneth O'Neil picked it up and discovered that it contained money, which he took to a nearby cop.
When the car with the five men in it was finally stopped, Carere was found to have a small roll of tied-up bills in his pockets, as did Pugliese. Miss Geary identified Carere from the police line-up, and the five were charged with conspiracy to defraud the public, with uttering counterfeit $10 US Federal Reserve Bills and with the illegal possession of 85 such notes. The legendary $10 scam that sent the founder of an "old style dynasty" to an "unjust confinement" turns out to be a little more significant. It's ironic that Sam's son would eventually become the Minister of Finance for Ontario. Perhaps the real story wouldn't have sounded so good in 2002 when Greg was one of the most powerful figures in the provincial Liberal Party, but I suspect the lie was much older.
In the Star's May 29 1935 report of their sentencing, the judge said to Sam Romeo "There are strong suspicions you were a party to this conspiracy, but I am giving you the benefit of the doubt." He also recommended that any of the men who had been naturalized as Canadian citizens should lose their citizenships; clearly, that didn't happen. Carere had been born in Guelph, but Sorbara had been born in San Giorgio, as had Belcastro.
Their lawyer claimed that the bills had been made in New York in 1932 and that another man had "asked these fellows to circulate the leftover bills in Canada." Their lawyer also pleaded for leniency for Sorbara, whom he claimed didn't have long to live. Considering that Sam died in 2002 at the age of 91, it would appear the lawyer was stretching the truth. Or perhaps it was the Toronto Star that got it wrong, because the Globe had reported that the lawyer asked the judge to allow Carere to go to the jail hospital because Cosmo had consumption. Like Sorbara, Cosmo lived long and prospered much.
Carere, whose previous adult conviction had led to a sentence in which he had been ordered to stay at home for a year and to go to church every Sunday, received the same sentence as the other three, which was three years in the Kingston Pen.
Upon the announcement of the sentences, the lawyer said he was filing an appeal on behalf of Belcastro and Pugliese. On June 15, Sam and Cosmo left the Don Jail for Kingston. By June 27, Belcastro was allowed bail of $10,500 and was let out on his own recognizanc, but it would have cost him another $10,000 if he had failed to show for his September hearing. Who paid that bail isn't mentioned, but presumably, the man who had given them the counterfeit money had a vested interest in Belcastro's loyalty.

While that appeal was pending, trouble was again brewing for the Cipollas, who were still living in Welland. On July 2 1935, the Star reported "the Italian section of Main St. S. dozed peacefully in the warm sunshine. Suddenly thee shots rang out and three or four little children in the line of fire ran screaming to safety. None was hit."
Neither was Matteo Cipolla, the intended target, who ran after his assailant "when the latter turned and fled." The paper went on to say that "A mysterious feature is that Cipolla himself denies the shooting, though witnesses claim to have seen a Crowland youth fire three shots almost point blank."
Who the Crowland youth was doesn't seem to be known, maybe he was related to or was Sam Nicot, the man who had shot at Matteo four years before. Cipolla kept to the code however and continued to act like nothing had happened. Undoubtedly behind closed doors a lot was said, but if anything was done, it doesn't seem to have made the papers in a form anyone recognized.

In the meantime, on September 17 1935, Pugliese and Belcastro won their appeal at Osgoode Hall, although one of the judges dissented where Pugliese was concerned. In both cases, the panel noted that there were 'suspicious circumstances' but not enough evidence to prove guilt. Their lawyer made allusions to the treatment of naturalized citizens in Europe and urged the judges that 'there should be particular care that in the case of this naturalized citizen (Pugliese) there should be no injustice." Apparently none was done him and he was free to return to Railway Street and Papalia family circles for the waning years of Rocco Perri's world, where he and they helped Stefano Magaddino take over crime in Ontario. Belcastro went back to Guelph and his store, his reputation for a certain kind of reliability intact.
According to Sorbara's biographers, Sam only served 24 months of his three-year sentence. Presumably, Carere was also released in 1937. When they got out, both hit the ground running.
After the war, both men did very well for themselves in the construction business. Sam Sorbara would turn the rural village of Woodbridge into one of the ugliest sprawls of surbanity in Ontario.
He married Grace Chirchiglia, whose sister Mary became the wife of Angelo Ferraro, the son of Luigi Ferraro and Rose Carere (Angelo left Guelph for Toronto in 1952) which is where he married Sam Sorbara's sister-in-law. Rosario Sacco of Guelph was also married to a Chirchiglia.
Sam Sorbara wasn't the first mob associate to take notice of the village of Woodbridge. I don't know who was, but Matteo Cipolla would be arrested there later in the 1930's. Paul Volpe would set up shop there much later still. And so eventually did the Caruana-Cuntrera's and their multi-billion dollar Columbian cocaine business. The family took Meyer Lansky's money-laundering dictates to new heights, and helped secure Woodbridge's reputation as one of the most corrupt towns in the province from the 1980's on.
Paul Volpe was murdered in 1983, and the Caruana- Cuntrera's were thrown into disarray in 1998 (Alfonso Caruana - one of the so-called "Mafia's Rothschilds" and others in the clan were arrested in July of that year as part of an international police action known as Project Omerta - which forms the conclusion of Antonio Nicaso's and Lee Lamothe's Bloodlines.) But until his death in 2002, Woodbridge was Sam Sorbara's town.
Perhaps he was just an old style padrone dispensing benevolence and opportunity. His largesse was certainly legendary, and his name is associated with a great deal of charitable work: he seems to have donated a considerable amount of money to various causes. His 1935 arrest also appears to have been the last time he faced a judge somewhere other than over cocktails. or Tory or charity fundraisers.
As Greg said of his father after his death, and undoubtedly in a much different context, "Those who became his friends, stayed his friends." Sam Sorbara is one of the most legendary or the Morgeti-Sangiorgios , but the crime is nothing like the myth of a poor Italian "unjustly confined" by the Anglo state for stealing ten dollars. His full legacy may well have been part of the reason the RCMP delved so deeply into Greg's business affairs, and could well underlie the actual reasons Greg eventually stepped down for good as Minister of Finance, then again, Greg's Dad's old friends may have had nothing to do with that, the RCMP certainly aren't saying much.
Personally, I wouldn't trust a dollar from moneyed Italians (or Columbians) from Woodbridge any more than Israel Rotman trusted the ten-dollar bills carried into his store by Sam Sorbara and Cosmo Carere in 1935.