DeDomenico Lentini

De Domenico Lentini

It was in the early  nineteen hundreds when times were hard, and work was scarce; thousands of immigrants from various countries arrived in America to start a new life. They moved close to each other and established small communities to help preserve their proud heritage and traditions. This allowed them to also communicate with each other using the language of their native country. As the years passed the small communities grew and became a major influence in the small cities along the Mahoning River. In 1930 Youngstown had a population estimated by the US census to be (170) people.

One of the ethnic groups upon arriving to America settled on the North Side of Youngstown. The area was called “Briar Hill” because of the wooded hills,briar patches and large deposit of coal;this would become the first Italian settlement in the city.  Immigrants of other nationalities settled in small villages  such as Campbell,Struthers,Girard ,Niles,and Lowellville. Over a period of time the area along  the Mahoning River became a melting pot of hard working people from Scotland and  many European  countries.They made their homes  close to the steel mills, and coal mines where most were employed.

The Boarder cities along Ohio,and  Pennsylvania , such as Ferrell, Sharon and New Castle,  became highly industrialized with steel mills and other supported industries. They too had settlements of ethnic groups like the Mahoning Valley. In the early days of immigration, abuse of emigrants became a common practice, they were victimized and taken advantage in may ways by those in control, such as employers and people of authority. Many of them worked long hours for lesser pay then  those who performed the same tasks.

When an employee was injured while performing his duties, some companies refused to cover medical expenses and failed to help them in anyway. Some employers took out Life Insurance Polices on their employees that performed dangerous tasks such as building bridges and working in very high places. Many employees who were unable to read and write were not aware they were victims of fraud,if one of the workers died of an accident while performing his job, only part of the insurance money went to the family.The employer who also signed as a beneficiary took the rest. This was unknown to the family of the deceased.

Once the immigrants learned of the scams, they took decisive action to stop the mistreatment.and abuse. They came to America to get away from this same oppression and  abuse.The emigrants eventually reached out to someone in their community who showed no fear and had a reputation of fighting anyone who tried to harm his family or friends. He soon became a leader; a man of respect and honor. He was called  “The Don” or “Petrone ” The Don would eventually become a figurehead in the community and  helped anyone in trouble.

The Don or (Mafia Head)soon became a powerful and influential man among the poor and needy. The community realized his importance , his actions and his influence. He was respected by  other nationalities besides Italians. The Don and his associates had become the political machine in control of politicians due to his leadership. He eventually faded into the background, growing his garden and making wine to avoid publicity. He appointed associates and let them do his bidding.

Unfortunately some of the associates (called soldiers) became corrupted and started gambling and other illegal operations, including policy numbers(Bug numbers)as they were called before the State Lottery took over. The Don, like most leaders got his share of the profits. No one was harmed and everyone was happy except the law enforcement and greedy politicians including the Mayor. The political factions had to be paid in order to keep them quiet and continue with the mob’s illegal operations. The Mafia had become involved with the political faction and joined them in corruption.  Mafia influence,corruption and extortion would become the excepted way of life in the Mahoning Valley for many years to follow.




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