Features & Columns

Silicon Alleys: Sausage Maker's Book Explores Family's Bootlegging Roots

MOB RULES: Pete Carlino (second from left, middle row) pictured here with a gathering of early bootleggers in 1929. Photo Courtesy of Susan Carlino Evanoff

Sam Carlino's new book, Colorado's Carlino Brothers: A Bootlegging Empire, is the best argument for saving the San Jose Flea Market I've ever come across.

As we learn in the book, thanks in part to the flea market, Carlino discovered secrets about his grandfather's criminal empire in Colorado, including previously unreported connections from that state's mafia underworld straight back to the notorious Salvatore Maranzano in New York City.

In the spring of 1985, when Carlino was just a teenager, and long before he rose up the ranks in his family's food and grocery empire which to this day includes Sam's BBQ, he peddled Italian sausage at the Berryessa Flea Market, where his father oversaw 26 snack bars.

"He always had aspirations of me owning my own business, so when I was 18, he offered an opportunity to me if I wanted to open up a little sausage shop," Carlino recalled. "It'd keep me busy on Friday nights. Instead of going out with my buddies, I'm making sausage until midnight, and then I got to go out to the flea market and sell it on Saturday and Sunday."

One day at the flea market, an old-timer sauntered up out of nowhere, sampled the Italian sausage and recognized it as the legendary Carlino recipe from way back when the family owned Time Deli at Bascom and San Carlos. Then the old-timer told Sam about Sam's own grandfather, Pete Carlino, who, unbeknownst to Sam, had run a bootlegging empire in Pueblo, Colorado, during Prohibition, and had been assassinated in a mafia hit job in 1931. This was an eye-opening story.

After that encounter, Sam never saw the old-timer again. He doesn't even remember the guy's name. In retrospect, the old guy can be understood as an angel who showed up right when the student was ready, gave him the keys, unlocked the door and set him on a lifelong journey that produced a fantastic book 34 years later. That's how the universe often works.

As Sam grew up, he maintained a casual interest in the "family" part of his own heritage, but eventually grew sick of all the misinformation about what really happened. Over the years, various books and newspapers arrived at the wrong conclusions about that fateful day in 1931 and the Carlino operation in general, so Sam realized he needed to write his own book to set the record straight. As such, Colorado's Carlino Brothers is the result of the years he spent uncovering new facts and connecting dots that no one had connected. All of which brought him in contact with several authors who'd specialized in mafia history for decades, some of whom were blown away by the new details Sam discovered, especially the direct links between the Pueblo empire and Salvatore Maranzano.

I am not going to spoil it. You'll have to buy the book for yourself and find out. Although Colorado's Carlino Brothers is out there in the world, Carlino says his life hasn't changed very much since writing it. He's just proud that his father and uncles did a 180-degree turn and never carried on the "family" life. In fact, several of them went on to serve in WWII. Had his grandfather lived—that is, if no one had ever gunned him down—then who knows how differently everyone's lives would have unfolded.

What's more, Sam was somewhat nervous before his recent author events in Colorado. After all, here he was, a notorious mobster's direct descendent coming back to the scene of the crime for the first time in 90 years. What would the locals think? Fortunately, after all was said and done, his anxiety evaporated. No issues came up.

"Everybody thanked me for writing the book, and everyone in Pueblo was especially friendly," Sam said. "I'd never met nicer people in my life than in Pueblo, Colorado. I'm not kidding. They were so gracious. Everyone was so kind. It was crazy. I mean, people were really grateful that I wrote the book. And there was a thirst for this knowledge out there."

The Berryessa Flea Market should be grateful also. And I'm already hungry for some Italian sausage.