Salvatore “Sam” Carlino (1884–1931) and Pietro “Pete” Carlino (1890–1931) were southern Colorado alcohol bootleggers and Italian American mob bosses during the years of prohibition. Called the “Carlino Brothers,” they controlled most of the black market for liquor in the state from 1922 to 1931. Both were arrested and acquitted several times for various crimes, leading newspapers and attorneys to accuse local governments of corruption. The Carlino brothers were associated with famous mob bosses Al Capone and Salvatore Maranzano, and they successfully established a powerful Italian mafia in the state of Colorado before they were killed by rivals.
Early Family and Personal Life
The Carlino family immigrated to the United States in 1897 from the Agrigento region of Sicily. The family moved to Colorado and became sugar beet farmers in Vineland, Pueblo County. Several Sicilian families immigrated to the Pueblo area, creating a strong Italian American community consisting of farmers, steel mill laborers, and miners.
After statewide prohibition was enacted in 1916, the Carlino family readily stepped in to fill the demand for alcohol from local families by brewing “Sugar Moon” whiskey on their beet farm. In 1917 Sam and Pete Carlino moved east to Sugar City, Crowley County. Their bootlegging operation grew significantly as legal alcohol manufacturers shut down. They hid stills throughout the countryside and in caves.
In Pueblo, mob boss Pellegrino Scaglia distributed Carlino liquor through his grocery store and pool hall. On May 6, 1922, he was murdered by the rival Danna family, which had a family feud with the Carlinos dating back to their time in Sicily. After Scaglia’s murder, Sam and Pete assumed his position as the bosses of Pueblo. Carlino family friend John Mulay took over as main distributor of Carlino moonshine out of his nearby pool hall at 224 Union Avenue.
The Danna family struck again, and Mulay was murdered on February 27, 1923. His brother, Carl, then took charge of the pool hall. The Danna family continued its war against the Carlinos on June 19, 1923, murdering Carl’s bodyguard Vincenzo Urso with a shotgun.
The feud escalated on September 10, 1923, when Pete and Sam’s youngest brother, Carlo “Charlie,” and his hired bodyguard were killed in a shootout at the Baxter Road bridge over the Arkansas River. The Danna attackers fled unscathed. Witnesses informed police of the deadly altercation, and officers quickly arrested John and Pete Danna and Carlo Valenti, charging all three with murder. They pleaded not guilty, and the trial resulted in a hung jury. The Dannas were released on bail, and the case was never reopened.
After losing six members of their mafia family, the Carlino brothers set out for revenge. After the murder of a Danna associate, an anonymous tip on April 30, 1925, provided authorities with the exact locations of the Danna family’s moonshine facilities in Vineland. It is believed that an agent of the Danna family made the call after he was blackmailed. After a gunfight with federal officers, Sam and Tony Danna were arrested, 2,000 gallons of liquor were seized, and two stills destroyed. Several more assassinations and retaliations between the two families riddled the mid-1920s in southern Colorado. No charges stuck until October 1926, when Carlino associate Jim Giarratano was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a Danna associate that April.
On May 14, 1926, the remaining three Danna brothers—Pete, Tony, and Sam—visited a major distribution point for Danna moonshine. While Pete and Tony Danna stood on the sidewalk outside the Monte Carlo in Pueblo conducting business, gunmen in a Hudson Coach came roaring down Main Avenue and shot them. Both died of their wounds. Uncharacteristically, given the southern Colorado mob’s code of honor, both Tony and Pete gave deathbed testimonies that Sam and Pete Carlino and three Carlino associates were responsible for the shooting.
Hunting the Carlinos
Police departments from Pueblo, Trinidad, and Aguilar started a massive manhunt for the five suspected killers, setting up roadblocks throughout Pueblo and Las Animas Counties. Governor Clarence Morley offered a $500 reward for the capture of each suspect, which was in addition to the $1,000 reward offered by Pueblo County for the capture of all five suspects.
On August 22, 1926, fearing that someone might betray them for the substantial rewards, Pete Carlino and two associates turned themselves in to the Pueblo Sheriff’s office for the murder of the Danna brothers. The others remained at large. During their trial in November 1926, Sam Danna took the stand and testified against the trio for the murder of his brothers. After seven votes, jurors reached a verdict of not guilty. They claimed the prosecution had offered insufficient evidence.
After the trial, business boomed for the Carlino brothers. Pete Carlino was called the “Al Capone of Southern Colorado.” By 1927 the Carlinos expanded their reach north through Colorado Springs and into Denver. Pete moved his family to the Highland neighborhood in Denver, buying a mansion at 3357 Federal Boulevard.
Between 1927 and 1930, other members of the Carlino family came to Colorado to help with the bootleg liquor operation, and more murders took place. In 1930 Sam Danna was found murdered in a Pueblo alley with a point-blank shotgun wound to the chest. With this murder of the final Danna brother, the vendetta between the Carlinos and Dannas came to an end.
Downfall and the Bootlegger Convention
After prohibition officers made a string of bootlegging arrests in southern Colorado, prohibition agent and World War I veteran Dale Frances Kearney was murdered in Aguilar on July 6, 1930. State and federal prohibition agencies then organized a massive effort to stop organized crime in southern Colorado.
Although agents were never able to apprehend Kearney’s assassin, they successfully planted an undercover agent in the southern Colorado mafia. Lawrence Baldesareli was an Italian American federal agent in the US Attorney’s Office. To gain favor with the Carlinos, he posed as a Chicago gunman. By August 1930, he was Sam Carlino’s bodyguard. At that time, the Carlinos had a significant foothold in the southern and central Denver bootleg market, and were pushing into northern Denver territory. The family had alliances with notorious Louisville bootlegger Joe Roma, as well as northern Colorado bootleggers the Smaldone brothers.
On January 24, 1931, Pete Carlino held a “Bootlegger Convention” at La Palamarte Roadhouse at 6601 West 38th Avenue in Wheat Ridge. The event was supposed to bring local Colorado bootlegging families together to create an alliance, agree on a standard price for moonshine, and set up a rescue fund for mob widows. Baldesareli tipped off police to the meeting. Just as the meeting began, twenty-three armed police officers surrounded the building’s exits. Sam and Pete Carlino, as well as twenty-seven other bootleggers, were arrested and held in the Denver jail. Nine of those arrested belonged to the Carlino crime family (including the two brothers), but they were charged only with vagrancy.
On February 4, 1931, Sam and Pete Carlino and eleven bootleggers were released by Judge Walter E. White without sentencing. The Denver Post blamed Denver mayor Benjamin Stapleton for the suspended sentences, alleging that corruption was to blame for bootleggers’ apparent immunity.
Later that month, Pete planned with Baldesareli to go to Omaha, Nebraska, to hide from attackers and gather more weapons and money. Before he left for Omaha, Pete firebombed his own house on March 17, 1931, to collect insurance money. Baldesareli contacted local authorities to tip them off, but nothing was done to stop the explosion. Baldesareli then dropped Pete off in Omaha as planned.
Newspapers assumed Carlino rivals carried out the attack. Police suspected Sam Carlino. They eventually found him in a car with Baldesareli and arrested both men. After finding an address on Sam’s person, they raided a weapons cache containing automatic weapons and 125 rounds of ammunition. While Sam was held in jail, Baldesareli was released after paying a twenty-five-dollar fine for carrying a concealed weapon. This made the Carlino family suspicious of Baldesareli, especially given how swiftly everyone was arrested following the explosion. Sam Carlino was soon released on a $5,000 bond. On March 28, all involved Carlino associates were bailed out.
On his way to pick up Sam Carlino for a court appearance, Baldesareli was shot outside the Mayflower Hotel. He survived, and police stood guard inside his room at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The Denver Post printed details of Baldesareli’s history, revealing his undercover identity. During the arson trial, prosecutors blasted Mayor Stapleton and Denver Police Chief Robert Reed for knowing in advance about the plot to blow up Pete’s house and chided them for their inaction. Prosecution attacks and newspaper smears contributed to Stapleton losing his bid for reelection later that year, as the public believed Stapleton had been corrupted by the mob. Two of Sam’s associates were charged for the arson, but he was let free.
On May 6, 1931, Sam Carlino was shot and killed at home by his associate Bruno Mauro. When police arrived, Sam’s wife, Josie, told them that Mauro was responsible for Sam’s death as well as the shooting of Baldesareli. (She later rescinded her statement, fearing for her and her children’s lives.) Roadblocks were set up throughout the state and in Wyoming to apprehend Mauro, but he was not found. Later that month, a car registered to bootlegger Joe Roma was found burning in a Pueblo canyon. Baldesareli identified the vehicle as the getaway car in his own shooting as well as the car used by Mauro to flee Sam Carlino’s killing. This led investigators to believe Mauro was working with Roma to pick off the Carlino family.
During this chaos in Colorado, Pete Carlino made his way to Brooklyn and Chicago, where Al Capone arranged a meeting for him with “head of heads” mafia boss Salvatore Maranzano at the end of May. On June 15, Pete returned to Colorado. His cousin Charles Guardamondo agreed to hide him on his farm five miles outside Pueblo. Catherine Mulay (Pete’s sister-in-law) feared that rival bootleggers would harm the Guardamondo family for concealing Pete and decided to call the police. On June 18, 1931, twelve officers surrounded the Guardamondo ranch. Pete peacefully surrendered and was taken to the Denver jail.
Salvatore Maranzano wanted Pete to be stripped of authority within the mafia, but not harmed. He convinced Joe Roma to secure Pete’s $5,000 bail. Maranzano named Roma as the new mob boss of Colorado. While out on bond awaiting his trial set for the end of September, Pete traveled south to visit his associates at the Canon City Penitentiary who had been charged with arson. On September 10, 1931, two miles west of Penrose, Pete was abducted and taken to Siloam Road twelve miles away. There he was shot three times and his body dumped under a bridge. After three days, Pueblo police discovered his body after receiving an anonymous tip.
Pete was laid to rest next to his brother Sam at Crown Hill Cemetery in Wheat Ridge. His killers were never identified, but the Carlino family believed both brothers’ deaths were orchestrated by Joe Roma.
The Carlino Brothers changed organized crime in Colorado. Their bootleg alcohol empire helped establish a local Italian American crime underworld backed by more powerful eastern mob bosses. By continually getting off with no or minimal charges for murders and bombings, including the murder of a federal officer, the Carlino brothers’ crime syndicate exposed corruption in the Colorado judicial system. The violence, as well as the enormous profitability of black-market liquor, helped motivate Colorado voters to repeal Prohibition in 1933.