New book tells the story of former Johnstown mafia

Local News

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (WTAJ) —Johnstown native Russell Shorto recently wrote and published a book about his grandfather who he was named after. The interesting part? His grandfather ran the mob in Johnstown alongside his brother-in-law.

Shorto’s book “Small Time” was published in February. He said he was so young at the time that did not exactly know the dynamics of the family business. In reality, his grandfather was a kingpin in the central Pennsylvania mafia, running illegal gambling.

“My grandfather was always this kind of mysterious figure,” Shorto said. “He learned to admire George Washington and Henry Ford and American business and that’s what they did: they applied that to services that were illegal and yet, everyone wanted to do them. So they created their own industry.”

Back then there wasn’t a lot to do for entertainment in central Pennsylvania, so illegal gambling fit the bill and also paid the bills.

The elder Russell Shorto was already experienced in the hustle of charging for bets or gambling back in the late 1940s. Fast forward to the early 1950s when his life would change forever: his sister tied the knot with Joseph Regino, also known as “Little Joe Ragno” who would go on to control Johnstown for decades.

“When he got here he fell in love with this girl who happened to be my grandfather’s sister,” Shorto said. “There was one murder at the center of the story.”

It may have happened right here, very close to the town square in downtown Johnstown. The bookie who reportedly always carried a large pocket of cash disappeared and was found over a week later, 30 miles away in a ditch. No charges were ever filed and that was the beginning of the end for the Johnstown mafia.

Shorto said this happened right as John F. Kennedy was coming into the White House and Bobby Kennedy was the new Attorney General with a commitment to crack down on the mob. All of a sudden Johnstown looked like any other target on the FBI’s list to take down organized crime.

“The cops were on him, the FBI was in town and they shut down their operation and everything so it all came to an end,” Shorto said.

Memories are all that’s left of this mob story on Main Street.

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