Johnston man caught up in questionable money-making ventures

Posted 8/2/22

Joseph Tutalo was amazed by the magic money-making machine demonstrated before him. Little did he know that he was being scammed and would spend the next couple years engaged in court proceedings …

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Johnston man caught up in questionable money-making ventures


Joseph Tutalo was amazed by the magic money-making machine demonstrated before him. Little did he know that he was being scammed and would spend the next couple years engaged in court proceedings trying to recoup $14,900.

Joseph was the son of John Tutalo and Elvira (Scialo). He had grown up on Tobey Street in Providence where his father worked as a liquor dealer and saloon-keeper. He later married Theresa Minicucci, bought a place on Tell Street in Providence and worked as a bartender at his family’s café and bar on Hartford Avenue in Johnston. By the 1940s, he was running Tutalo’s Tap, a Johnston saloon, located on the same street.

The Tutalo family had experience in dealing with the law. John saw his home raided in Jan. of 1921 after police caught wind of illegal alcohol being on the premises. John explained that the spirits had been purchased for his daughter’s birthday celebration and pleaded not guilty, demanding a jury trial. Just before the trial, he changed his plea to nolo and was fined $500. The following year, he was charged with illegal possession of alcohol again when police found 11 quarts of spirits and 81 quarts of beer in his home. He was fined $60.

In Sept. of 1938, John was killed due to asphyxia, exposure, shock and accidental drowning during the tidal wave which washed up on Narragansett Beach during the infamous hurricane. 

By 1944, 35-year-old Joseph was residing at 1203 Hartford Avenue. In addition to running his tap room, the 6’2, 230-pound husband and father also maintained an elaborate, well-stocked private bar known as “The Chicken Coop” behind his house. In Dec. of that year, a Federal Hill barber named Vincent Guilli was met with a request from Louis Palmieri, also known as “Louie from Boston” and “John Testa,” to meet Joseph. Vincent brought Louis to the Coop and he and Joseph quickly became friends as Louis visited him several more times at the Coop and at Joseph’s home. On Jan. 10, 1945, Louis took Joseph to the Crown Hotel in Providence to meet “Dr. Carlo Labriolo,” a man renting a room there who was alleged to be a chemistry professor from Montreal who had invented a “money-making machine.” Louis promised Joseph this amazing man could make him rich.

When they arrived at the hotel, Louis introduced Joseph to Carl. Joseph was highly impressed with Carl’s knowledge of chemistry and was astounded to watch him make five one-hundred dollars from the simple act of pressing one bill between two sheets of paper. He was more than eager to try it himself. After being convinced to collect $15,000, all in $100 bills, Joseph instructed his wife to withdraw $5,000 from their bank account at the Atwell’s Avenue branch of the Industrial Trust Company. He also had her return to him the $1,700 he had given to her the previous day. He then withdrew more funds from another bank and mortgaged his home to generate another $5,300 and borrowed an additional $3,000 from one his cousins.

On Jan. 16, Louis and Carl came to Joseph’s home and the three men disappeared into The Chicken Coop to create some money. Theresa did not have a good feeling about this and sat at the window of her sun room watching the Coop door until the men emerged two hours later.

Carl had arrived with his black doctor’s bag. He and Louis had placed a piece of glass on the table inside the bar. They laid a white sheet of paper on top of the glass and Carl removed twenty small bottles from his bag, filled with colored liquids. With a series of mysterious hand motions, Carl poured the liquids onto the paper. He then instructed Joseph to lay one of his hundred-dollar bills on the paper. The other 149 hundred-dollar bills were then carefully stacked on top with a sheet of white paper placed between every other bill. Louis and Carl then put a second piece of glass on top of the stack and the entire creation was wrapped securely in a large piece of brown paper. Joseph was told to go and find some adhesive tape to secure it with. When he returned, the bundle was taped up and he was instructed to put it away and not touch it for 24 hours. He complied by placing it in a closet. It was planned that Louis and Carl would return the following day at noon to open the bundle, at which time Joseph would find his funds greatly multiplied.

When Louis and Carl failed to return the next day, Joseph opened the bundle himself. Little did he expect that the two men had taken the money while he was fetching the tape and all that remained was a single one-hundred dollar bill on a sheet of white paper. Joseph immediately went to the police and their investigation took them to New York City, with Joseph accompanying them.

After Carl was arrested, it was determined that his true identity was Guiseppe Esposito. Joseph positively identified him and Esposito was released on a bond. A few days later, Joseph agreed to meet him at a restaurant there in New York, on Broome Street, across from the Esposito home where Giuseppe lived with his wife and two children. He offered to reclaim some of the money if Joseph agreed to refrain from testifying against him. Joseph accepted the deal and went to police to make out an affidavit stating that he did not think Esposito was the man they were searching for. Eventually, an unnamed person provided Joseph with $4,500 as part of the deal. He later returned the money and decided to testify against Esposito although he refused to name the person who had provided the money to him.

During the trial, Esposito swore that he had nothing to do with the swindle and was not even in the area that Jan. However, several witnesses identified him, including Joseph’s wife, an employee of Tutalo’s Café and the maid at the Crown Hotel, who stated that he rented room 225 from Jan. 9 to Jan. 16. When asked why he filled out a false affidavit clearing Esposito, Joseph testified, “They told me what to do and I did it.”  

A jury found Esposito guilty of larceny by fraud and interstate transportation of stolen money and he was sentenced to serve five years in the RI State Prison. It was not his first prison stint. He had previously served time in a federal penitentiary in Penn. for passing counterfeit money. Now, he potentially faced deportation back to Italy. Also charged was Edward Lanna of Providence, who was found guilty of conspiring with Esposito to swindle Joseph and sentenced to serve one year in prison. 

The names of the Tutalo family’s establishments changed over the years. Tutalo’s Café later went by such monikers as Tutalo’s Diner and Tutalo’s Blue Note. The Blue Note staged popular jazz concerts and patrons loved to watch Joseph’s brother Ernest, known as the “Juggling Bartender.” Joseph’s private bar, which came to be called “Joseph’s Chicken Coop” was raided by state police on June 29, 1951 after a state trooper smashed down the door at 4 p.m. He and other troopers seized three telephones, betting slips, racing papers, pencils, pads and two radios. A charge of maintaining a building for gambling purposes was later dropped when it was learned that the search was conducted without a warrant.                

On Nov. 8, 1953, the Coop was raided again after seven State Police troopers used sledgehammers to batter down the door at 11:35 that morning. Joseph was arrested and charged with being a common gambler. His brother John, Robert Baronian and Salvatore Scottli were arrested as well and charged with promoting a lottery. 

Joseph Tutalo died on May 25, 1962, at the age of 53, and was buried in Saint Ann Cemetery in Cranston. Money had played a huge role in his life­ — from the success of family saloons and restaurants, to fraudulent magic tricks and the dollar signs promised by games being carried out inside an extravagantly refurbished poultry coop in his back yard.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.


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