Bufalino known as powerful mob leader

He was known by associates as the ''quiet Don,'' a simple, reserved man who lived in a modest home near Scranton.

But a 1960s U.S. Senate committee described Russell Bufalino, boss of the northeastern Pennsylvania crime family that bore his name, as ''one of the most ruthless and powerful leaders of the Mafia in the United States.''

''He had a lot more clout than would have been reflected on the surface,'' said Nick Akerman, a former U.S. attorney in New York who successfully prosecuted Bufalino in 1982 on a charge he conspired to kill a mob witness.

That conviction, for which Bufalino spent nearly 10 years in prison, was his last. He had many arrests in the 1920s and '30s on such charges as petty larceny, conspiracy to obstruct justice and fencing stolen jewelry. In 1977, he was convicted of extortion and served four years in prison. He died in a nursing home in 1993 at age 90.

His ascent to the top of the Mafia leadership began after a 1957 meeting in Apalachin, N.Y., where more than 100 mobsters from throughout the country convened for a summit that was raided by the FBI and local police.

''[Bufalino] was there and claimed he was selling soda and didn't know what was going on,'' Akerman said.

According to a 1975 Time magazine story, Bufalino was recruited by the CIA in 1961 to help spy on Cuba in preparation for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.

Bufalino was co-owner of a casino near Havana but lost it and $450,000 he had hidden there after Castro took control of the country. Two other mobsters, Chicago boss Sam Giancana and Johnny Roselli, were also recruited by the CIA to kill Castro, according to Time.

In his 2004 book, ''I Heard You Paint Houses,'' author Charles Brandt wrote it was Bufalino who gave the order to kill Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa in 1975.

Brandt, a former prosecutor and chief deputy attorney general in Delaware, wrote the book based on interviews with Frank Sheeran, a longtime Teamsters official from Philadelphia and Hoffa aide who claimed to have carried out Bufalino's order by shooting Hoffa.

Law enforcement officials long suspected Sheeran of taking part in Hoffa's disappearance.

''There's no question Sheeran thought Bufalino was the most powerful Mafia leader in the country,'' Brandt said. ''The [Mafia] wouldn't do anything of any importance without Bufalino's permission, so once approval was given to kill Hoffa, it was given to Bufalino to do because they knew it would be done appropriately and intelligently and he would not bring publicity on himself.''

Bufalino was also a powerful player within the Teamsters union, Brandt said, especially the Central States pension fund, which was known as the ''mob's bank.'' The Central States fund was used to finance construction of Las Vegas casinos and other projects.

''Bufalino owned a curtain store near Scranton, and you could go in there and buy curtains,'' Brandt said, ''or get a loan to build a casino in Las Vegas.''

According to a 1991 Pennsylvania Crime Commission report, Bufalino eventually handed control of his diminishing crime family to his former driver, William D'Elia. In July, D'Elia testified before a Dauphin County grand jury about his alleged relationship with Mount Airy Casino Resort owner Louis DeNaples.

The Crime Commission report says D'Elia was a caretaker for the Bufalino family, which lost members, power and influence within national Mafia circles.

Still, Brandt said the family namesake is not forgotten.

''I did a book signing up there and I was amazed,'' he said. ''Everyone had a Russell Bufalino story.''