Fans Pack Robins Theatre for Some Mob Talk

WARREN, Ohio – The Mahoning Valley’s mafia heyday is long gone, but interest in it is still very much alive.

That was evident at Thursday evening’s “Youngstown Mob Talk” show at Robins Theatre. The 1,350-seat theater was sold out as folks came to hear about the gangsters who had a grip on the area for decades.

The live event was an offshoot of “Youngstown Mob Talk,” the YouTube talk show created and starring Johnny Chechitelli and James Naples III. The two Valley residents also run the Youngstown Mob Facebook group, which has more than 29,000 members. 

Chechitelli was a producer and researcher for “Crooked City,” the hit 2022 podcast by true-crime podcaster Marc Smerling that detailed the Youngstown mob’s history.

Naples III’s last name is a familiar one, because his uncles and great uncles were high-ranking members of the mafia in the area.

The show began on a light note, with a sealed steel drum wheeled on stage by author and Valley native Vince Guerrieri that the hosts said contained a surprise guest – Jimmy Hoffa.

Rick Porello, the former Cleveland cop turned true-crime novelist was the first of the living guests. Sitting on a stool and flanked by the co-hosts, he regaled the audience with the story of how a couple of hitmen from the Youngstown mob had to be called in to kill Irish crime boss Danny Greene in 1977.

Porello’s book on the subject, “Kill the Irishman,” was turned into a 2011 movie starring Christopher Walken, Val Kilmer, Paul Sorvino and Vincent D’Onofrio.

The author made it clear that the days of the Cleveland mafia and organized crime are over. “Now we have unorganized crime,” he said.

With tongue in cheek, Chechitelli raised a point that got the audience thinking. “The government is the new mob,” he said. “They have the numbers racket, sports betting, and the corruption is still there,” he said.

Porello has written several mafia books, including “The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia.” His latest is “There’s More Bodies Out There.”

Because of the success of the evening, Chechitelli indicated there would be more “Mob Talk” live shows in the future. He and Naples III will also soon release the Youngstown Mob Tour app, which will offer an informative self-guided tour of mafia bombing sites, mobster hangouts and their homes in the Mahoning Valley.

Special Guests

Two special guests made video appearances.

Mafia associate Frank Susany gave an interview with the podcasters in which he talked about his friendship with Mark Batcho, who is still in jail for the attempted 1996 murder of then-Mahoning County prosecutor Paul Gains.

Batcho was originally slated to be a video guest on the show.

The star of the evening was Ed O’Neill, the television and film star best known for his roles in “Married With Children” and “Modern Family.” O’Neill charmed the audience, via a prerecorded interview, with some insider info on roles he turned down in major mafia movies. 

He also recalled his days growing up on Youngstown’s North Side. It was an era when mafia bombings were a regular occurrence, and O’Neill said he and his pals would listen for them at night and then race off on their bikes to the scene.

An Eager Audience

Those in attendance had a lot of reasons for coming but shared an enthusiasm for the subject.

Dave Derr of Niles was among the many who cited the mafia’s importance to the area’s history. He said he has always known about the mob’s grip on the Valley, but his interest was piqued in the past year.

“The ‘Crooked City’ podcast caught my attention,” he said. “I listened to it religiously and got hooked on it. I waited for each episode to come out, and then I did research on it.”

Derr is also a member of the Youngstown Mob Facebook group and is among the 28,000 people who subscribe to the “Youngstown Mob Talk” YouTube show.

“They do a good job,” Derr said of Chechitelli and Naples III. “They provide a lot of information.”

Derr thinks he knows the reason why so many are fascinated with the area’s mafia roots.

“It has a lot to do with our history in the Mahoning Valley,” he said. “It explains why we are the way we are.”

Adam Earnheardt, a professor at Youngstown State University, was in attendance with his daughter, Ella, a student at Liberty High School.

“We’re fans of ‘Mob Talk,’” Adam said. “It’s reawakened some interest in [the mafia] – certainly for us.”

He offered the axiom “those who don’t learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them” as motivation for buying a ticket, but pointed out, “There is this sort of odd celebration around [the mafia in the Mahoning Valley].”

Ella said she enjoys history and also “living in a hometown with a history that is cool and unique.”

Adam Meyer of Warren also is attracted to the mafia because of its role in the Valley’s history. He says there is a cultural aspect to it because of the Valley’s strong Italian heritage. “And I suppose it’s also because of the way it’s portrayed in films,” he said. “It’s an interesting topic.”

Joe and Christine Ignazio of Youngstown were excited for the show.

“It’s a big part of Youngstown history,” Christine said. “Growing up, I heard stories from my dad. He was brought up in Campbell, and a lot of the people he knew were involved in it one way or the other.”

Joseph Vaglica has lived in Youngstown for only a couple of years. He is currently shooting a movie here, “Standing in Youngstown,” which he expects to premiere in November.

“The fact that most people don’t live that life makes it interesting to them in a mysterious kind of way,” he said, referring to the undying interest in mobsters.

He said his movie is about a boxer and includes an element of mafia. 

Mob Music

The evening began and ended with original music performed by local singer-songwriters Jay Byrd and Nick Adduci.

Byrd opened the show by playing “Steel Heart: The Ballad of James A. Traficant,” which was released this week and is available from all streaming retailers. The song tells the story of the late Mahoning Valley congressman and his relationship with the mafia. With a lonely harmonica intro and an outlaw vibe, it set the tone.

“That was the intent, to have that Western outlaw musical motif,” Byrd said. “It fits, because Traficant was our John Wayne, our Clint Eastwood.”

Byrd noted that Traficant had a penchant for the soundtracks of the “spaghetti Western” films of the 1970s, which were composed by the late Ennio Morricone and had a haunting quality.

Byrd was inspired to write the song after listening to the “Crooked City” podcast.

“I was a kid when these events transpired, but I remembered Traficant’s crazy hair and suits,” Byrd said. “But after the podcast, I started to see that he was more than that. He was very intelligent, very calculating. He was not just a loudmouth guy. He had ideas.”

Byrd recorded the song and sent it to Chechitelli and Naples, who were impressed enough to have him start the show with it.

The song is not just nostalgia.

“It’s about the past, Traficant, the mafia,” Byrd said. “But when it hits that chorus, ‘There’s a steel heart beating tonight in the city of Youngstown,’ that is the present. We’ve got our past – some of it we’re proud of and some of it we’re not – but it is us. We are still beating.”

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Adduci played his song “The Ballad of Lenny and Joey,” about Youngstown mob boss Lenny Strollo and his brother.

His new album, “United Music II,” is available on all streaming services.

Pictured at top: James Naples III, Rick Porello and Johnny Chechitelli on the stage during Thursday’s “Youngstown Mob Talk” show at Robins Theatre.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.