Pittsburgh Family

West Virginia Representatives


William "Big Bill" Lias

  William 'Big Bill' Lias was born on July 14, 1900 to Greek immigrants who relocated to West Virginia four years prior. Lias never made it to high school, having quit at the age of 12 and by 14 he was hauling whiskey from Ohio to Wheeling, WV where alcohol was prohibited. Before he was 30 Lias had graduated from hauling booze to making and distributing it and employing many to make his product available.

 During the 1920s-1930s Lias's control over bootlegging was being challenged. By now having employed a successful gang Lias met each challenge with a victory. Along the way to the top Lias suffered few legal setbacks, particularly due to the fact that he nearly all local authorities in his back pocket. In 1925 he received a 16 month sentence for conspiracy to distribute. In 1931 he began serving two years at the Atlanta federal prison for a similar conviction. While away his rackets continued to flourish as Lias had assigned relatives, most notably his cousin Mike Russell and close friends such as Sam Grossfield to act as caretakers.

 By 1930 Lias had reportedly purchased a numbers bank and money flowed in faster than any white lightning he had produced. In 1934 authorities were able to identify many in his gang when Lias's club was raided. Those arrested included Lias, Charlie Kupchak, Tony Pappas, Barney Stubbs and others. All told 33 were indicted but the charges failed to stick. Reportedly the numbers racket was operated in Wheeling and throughout surrounding areas. An occasional outsider would attempt to operate their own policy racket but they were quickly shut down; whether it was Lias's control over local police, the size of his gang or his girth that tipped the scale between 350-400 lbs, Lias faced no competition.

 Also in 1934 Lias's wife was murdered in a bizarre argument over gossiping. The accused murderer was Lias's cousin Mike Russell's wife. She was acquitted.

 With so much money flowing in, authorities claimed Lias's gang brought in $1 million annually, the IRS began looking into his background. In 1935 he was indicted for tax evasion but a jury acquitted him. No doubt the image of a local hometown racketeer, who had become a big time donor to charities, battling an intrusive federal government from Washington DC provoked the jury to turn a blind eye. It also helped that Mike Russell, who had since agreed to testified, was found shot dead just days before his intended testimony.

 Before the close of his trial Lias reportedly retired from the numbers business. Lias then turned around and petitioned state legislatures to make policy rackets a felony crime. Lias had other plans and didn't need competition. He had by now entered into the slots machine business. Reportedly he cut a deal with the Wheeling local government whereby he agreed to a local tax for the right to operate freely. Outside of Wheeling Lias was a known associate of Detroit's Purple Gang. In fact he owned a home in Palmer Woods, a Detroit suburb.

 By the early 1940s Lias held interest or owned most clubs, restaurants and lounges. It was then that he was believed to have formed a partnership with the Pittsburgh crime family and an association with Joe Pecora, a high ranking member of the syndicate. Pecora held sway in neighboring Hancock county.

 Federal authorities believed that Lias represented the Pittsburgh crime family in 1945 when he purchased the Wheeling Downs racetrack. Lias purchased the property in bankruptcy for $250,000 and invested another $500,000 renovating the facility. The racetrack is in operation today and boasts a casino and hotel.

 In 1952 the federal government attempted to deport Lias back to Greece. It would begin a nine year battle that ultimately ruled in favor of Lias. The IRS again claimed charges of tax evasion. The federal government placed Wheeling Downs in receivership as the case loomed on. By 1955 Lias was booted out of the racetrack then hired back by the federal government in what would turn into a small scandal because they ultimately decided he was best qualifed to act as manager. In order to settle his debt Lias sold the track to Purple Gang associates and squared up with the federal government on the terms of 12 cents for every dollar owed. Other businesses were taken by Lias and he never settled up the ultimate estimated amount of $2.5 million.

  In the early 1960s Paul Hankish of Warwood began to make a push on Lias's gambling interests. In 1964 Hankish nearly lost his life when car bomb went off. Hankish survived but was forever known as "legs" because the explosion had severed them. Bill Lias lived out the rest of his life in peace and died in June 1970.

Paul "No Legs" Hankish

  Following the death of Bill Lias in 1970, Paul Hankish of Warwood moved in on his territory. However prior to this move Lias had managed to have a car bomb detonated in 1964, which blew off Hankish's legs and brought about the grizzly nickname 'no legs'. Undeterred Hankish staked his claim on behalf of the Pittsburgh syndicate. Researchers speculate that Lias had grown old and refused to give up control combined with continuous problems with the IRS; resulted in the steel city crime group demanding a replacement.

  Paul Hankish was born in July 1931 and by all indications he was associated with the crime beginning in the 1950s. With Lias out of the way Hankish formed his own crew, which included the notorious criminal figure Robert 'Codfish' Bricker. The Hankish crew were Joe Pecora loyalist. Following Pecora's conviction for bribery the crew fell under Charles Porter.

  Just as Hankish was coming in as boss he was slapped with prison time following a conviction involving hijacking a beer truck. Beginning in 1974 he began serving a 10 year sentence for this crime. During this time his rackets came under fire from competition but were met with heavy firepower. This was due in part to Hankish loyalist Robert Bricker.

  Robert 'Codfish' Bricker, nicknamed due to his ice cold nerves, is a bit of a noteworthy character given his notorious past. In 1963 while out on parole for robbery Bricker became married and borrowed $500 from a friend. He then proceeded to shoot this person, run over the body and dragged the corpse 300 yards. The law caught up to him and he pled guilty, receiving a life term. In 1974 then West Virginia Governor Milton Shapp granted Bricker a lifetime parole after prison officials stated he would be an asset to society. Before long Bricker was back in Hankish gang and doing the bidding of his boss. This would include five murder over an 18 month span beginning in the 1978. The first of these murders was Melvin Pike of Uniontown, PA. Pike was a local hoodlum attempting to muscle in on Shankish. Bricker was the primary suspect but never charged. According to the 1980 testimony of former associate William 'Eggy' Prosdocimo Pittsbrugh mobster Chuckie Porter shot Bricker in the face but the hardened con survived the attempt. Unbeknownst to Bricker, Pike had been associated with Pittsburgh mafia power Gabriel Mannarino and later with Porter. Four more murders would follow mostly centered around vending machines and narcotics. Two murders would result in guilty verdicts with two death penalty sentences, each followed by overturns and subsequent life sentences. In 2000 Bricker died in prison.

  By the early 1980s Hankish was back on the scene. While gambling and vending machine interests were his bread and butter it was narcotics trafficking that brought mountains of cash to his coffers and a portion back over to the Pittsburgh mob. However it would be the Department of Justice that would bring him down. In 1988 Hankish was indicted on multiple racketeering counts. The acts included illegal gambling, extortion, murder conspiracy and narcotics trafficking. Two chief cooperating witnesses for the prosecution were Prosdocimo and Gerald 'Snooky' Walls. Other indictments against Charles Porter, Louis Raucci and Pittsburgh crime boss Mike Genovese soon followed. Hankish was ultimately sentenced to 33 years and died in prison in 1998.

Christopher Hankish

  Christopher Hankish attempted to make a run as a racketeer following his father's conviction. In 1990 he was indicted along with Chuckie Porter and Lou Raucci for cocaine trafficking. He pled guilty to one count of distribution and was sentenced to two years. Following his return authorities believed he began to actively engage in high-level bookmaking. In 2006 federal authorities indicted him again following an investigation of former poker machine kingpin John 'Duffy' Conley. Authorities traced multiple phonecalls between the two with wiretaps indicating illegal bookmaking was discussed. However Hankish would be spared when he died unexpectedly in September 2009 at the age of 46.

John "Duffy" Conley

  Labeled by a psychologist as a 'compulsive gambler', John Conley was taking action for Pittsburgh gangster before he graduated high school. By 1990 at the age of 27 Conley ventured into the gambling machine rackets placing them in the Wheeling, WV and Western Pennsylvania region. Before long he had control of 4,000 machines and federal authorities estimated he was raking in on average $15 million per year. Undoubtedly a portion of this made its way to Mike Genovese and Pittsburgh gangster as Conley never had a problem with the syndicate however authorities could never prove protection was paid.

  In 1995 Conley was indicted for being the mastermind behind his empire and sentenced to nine years. In 1997 he was indicted as part of a group of Pittsburgh gangster attempting to hide their role in the operations of the Rincon River Oaks Casino near San Diego. Conley had numerous machines placed in the facility, machines later traced back to the New Jersey DeCavalcante crime family and that state's Lucchese crime family crew, but authorities shut the casino down after one day of operations. Conley received an additional 21 months for his role.

  By the early 2000s Conley was back on the street while still serving federal probation. In 2006 he was placed back in federal prison for orchestrating a large-scale bookmaking operation on behalf of the Pittsburgh syndicate that had ties to the Wheeling, WV gang. In May 2009 Conley pled guilty with hopes of no more than a 5 year sentence.

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