‘Youngstown Mob Talk’ Will Take Center Stage at Robins Theatre Event

Youngstown’s mafia heyday – always a popular subject – has hit new levels of interest in recent months.

The “Crooked City” podcast started it. The Youngstown Mob Facebook group, which has more than 28,000 members, and the “Youngstown Mob Talk” YouTube show kept it going and continues to bring new information to light.

The topic will reach a new stage on Feb. 9, when Johnny Chechitelli and James Naples III, who run both the Facebook group and the YouTube show, present “Youngstown Mob Talk” live at Robins Theatre in Warren, Ohio. 

The 7 p.m. event will feature guests, live music written about Youngstown’s mafia days, discussion and a question-and-answer period. For tickets, click HERE. A VIP package is available that includes a meet and greet before the show, one Gold Circle seat and a limited edition “Youngstown Mob” T-shirt.

“Youngstown Mob Talk” is a weekly production of Amazing Podcast Company, which Chechitelli operates.

James Naples III and Johnny Chechitelli in the “Youngstown Mob Talk” podcast studio.

Naples is an instructor at Choffin Career & Technical Center, a local mob historian and a nephew of local mob boss Joseph “Little Joey” Naples, who was assassinated gangland-style outside his Beaver Township home in 1991 by unknown assailants who were hiding in the cornfield across the road. “Little Joey” Naples was a member of the Pittsburgh crime family.

Naples III is also the grandson of Jimmy Naples, who was a mafia figure. Jimmy, along with his brothers Sandy, Billy and Joey, were infamous mobsters in the 1960s.

The “Crooked City” podcast was released last year by nationally respected true crime podcaster Marc Smerling. It provided a punchy and complete audio history of the mafia in the Mahoning Valley. Chechitelli was a key contributor to “Crooked City,” which was among the top 10 podcasts nationally for weeks.

The two-hour event at Robins Theatre will feature an appearance by Cleveland Mafia writer and true crime author Rick Porrello (“To Kill the Irishman,” “The Rise and Fall of the Cleveland Mafia”) and a surprise guest.

Paintings made by the late former U.S. Rep James Traficant while he was in jail will be raffled.

The evening will also include live music by local artists Jay Byrd and Nick Aducci, who both wrote songs inspired by Youngstown’s mob days. Aducci’s song is the intro music for the weekly podcast, which now has more than 28,000 subscribers.

A Fascinating Topic

Interest in the Valley’s mafia days never really went away – even after the FBI sweeps in the 1990s that seemingly marked the end of the era. It was always just below the surface, waiting to explode. The “Crooked City” podcast lit the wick.

It was the success of “Youngstown Mob Talk” and the Facebook group that caught the attention of the Robins Theatre’s Ken Haidaris, who saw it as a natural for a live show.

Haidaris, who handles booking for Robins, saw how residents were and sensed an opportunity.

“When the Facebook page was started, the membership grew by leaps and bounds, and we knew there was still fascination for this subject,” Haidaris said. “We contacted [Chechitelli and Naples III] and put the show together.”

The show is selling “very well and could be a sellout,” he added.

Robins Theatre has built a whole week around the “Mob Talk” live show. It will screen the mafia movie “Goodfellas” the night before (Feb. 8). On Feb. 11, Frank Sinatra tribute singer Michael Sonata will perform. Sinatra was known for his friendship with mafia figures.

Sandwiched in the weekend is a Feb. 10 performance of Who’s Bad, a Michael Jackson tribute concert. Haidaris points out that even that show has a mafia connection.

“The actor who played Tuddy Cicero in ‘Goodfellas’ was Frank DiLeo, who was Michael Jackson’s manager,” he said. DiLeo, a Pittsburgh native, was a friend of “Little Joey” Naples. On the night he was assassinated, Naples was driving DiLeo’s Ford Mustang convertible.

DiLeo died in 2011 in a care facility in the North Lima area after having had heart surgery.

Fresh Content

While curiosity about the mafia never dies, ensuring that people keep coming back to the Youngstown Mob Facebook page takes effort. As moderators of the group, Chechitelli and Naples III put in work daily to stoke interest.

“We’ve learned that to keep it growing, we have to continuously post engaging content,” Chechitelli said. “We rely on people to post pictures and tell stories, and that led us to do the [‘Youngstown Mob Talk’ YouTube show].”

Each episode of “Mob Talk” is about 30 minutes and focuses on a particular topic. The Robins Theatre show will use the same format but will be expanded in length and scope.

Chechitelli and Naples III met as co-workers for a local television station. Naples no longer works at the station.

With a shared interest in the local mafia, they launched the Facebook page and the podcast. 

They also recently launched a Pittsburgh mafia Facebook group; a Cleveland group already existed.

Growing Up Mafia

As a youngster, Naples III’s family tried to shield him from involvement in mafia business, but he heard the stories. 

“I always wanted to be like my uncle Joey [the mob boss], and I got into a lot of trouble as a kid,” Naples III said.

“I remember the night he got killed. My dad was over, and my uncle Joey’s sister, who was my aunt, was there, and she got a phone call and was panicked and started crying. My dad got on the phone and then ran out of the house, saying, ‘Uncle Joey got shot.’ He made me and my mom go up to his house, and we stayed there the whole night.”

Later that night, they got a call and learned Joseph “Little Joey” Naples had died from his wounds.

Soon afterward, Naples III and his family moved into his grandfather’s house, “because there were death threats,” he said. “It was a crazy time,” he said.

Youngstown is Unique

While many American cities had a mafia presence in the 20th century, Youngstown is almost certainly the smallest one in which the gangsters had such a firm grip.

That fact partially explains Mahoning Valley residents’ enduring interest in the area’s mafia history.

Some people remember those days as the best of times, when they felt safer.

“We didn’t have the crime on the street in those days,” Naples III said. “There was crime, because the mafia was committing crime. But it wasn’t the random kind, because [street criminals] knew the wiseguys would get them if the cops didn’t.”

Chechitelli said Youngstown’s affinity for its mobsters is complex.

“There is a nostalgia element, but in my opinion, it was only because of that era,” he said. “Youngstown was a booming city and life was great. That’s how they remember it, but it [likely was not] great just because of the mob.”

Chechitelli is referring to the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s. By the ’90s, the city’s economic collapse was complete and the city’s prosperous days were over.

People across the country have long had an affection for mafia stories, Chechitelli said, pointing to movies such as “Goodfellas” and “The Godfather” trilogy that remain perennial favorites.

But the small size of the Youngstown-Warren area gave residents a more personal relationship with gangsters than was the case in major cities. Many residents here actually knew, or at least knew of, a mobster.

“Everyone knew a friend of a friend who knew a wiseguy,” Chechitelli said. “There was one degree of separation.”

Naples III said the mafia’s tentacles were wrapped around elected officials in those days.

“In the ’80s, the FBI, the Youngstown chief of police and the Mahoning County sheriff were on the take, and so was the police chief of every township,” he said. “Has there ever been more of a crime town than that?”

Despite its mob control, some mafia historians have downplayed Youngstown, saying it was always just a satellite territory for the Pittsburgh and Cleveland mafia.

Chechitelli disputes that claim.

“Historians might say that Lennie Strollo and Joey Naples were the only made men ever in this area,” he said. “But FBI documents talk of [the mafia] making a man in Campbell in 1964, and he was just the newest one. There were made men here in the 1960s.”

Pictured at top: The Vince DeNiro car bombing in the uptown area of Market Street on July 17,1961. (Photo courtesy of Mahoning Valley Historical Society)

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.