Key West Fire Chief Joseph “Bum” Farto disappeared on Feb. 16, 1976, while awaiting sentencing for a drug trafficking conviction stemming from Operation Conch – a sting operation that found Farto allegedly selling cocaine from the city’s fire station. Bum Farto became the Jimmy Hoffa of Key West, and the island has swirled with rumors of his fate since he disappeared. David Sloan and Quincy Perkins have launched an unparalleled investigation into Chief Farto’s life, legends and disappearance in an attempt to find the truth. Each week they will share elements of their research here in the Key West Weekly while working to solve one of the greatest mysteries in the history of Key West. Share your Bum Farto tips and stories at www.findbumfarto.com.
When Bum Farto’s name appeared in a 1965 FBI file alongside the name of reputed Tampa mafia don Santo Trafficante, many who worked with the iconic fire chief were shocked.
Now, another government document reveals a family connection that makes us ask, “Was Bum Farto married to the mob?”
In the late 1950s, Key West was an alleged drop point for Trafficante’s heroin shipments. Shipments were reportedly brought by speedboat from Havana, Cuba, loaded in an unassuming van and taken to Miami for distribution across the United States in Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamster union trucks.
The dangerous party ended with the rise of Fidel Castro in Cuba, and it left everyone who had been involved looking for new sources of income.
Trafficante and Hoffa recognized the opportunities Key West presented, so they wasted no time making inroads with money from Hoffa’s Teamsters union fund, and help from a former Key West patrolman named Sam “The Fat Man” Cagnina.
In 1961, the Teamsters union pledged $3 million to build Key West’s first shopping center. At the same time, Sam Cagnina and Raimundo Beiro worked feverishly behind the scenes to bring a local construction company that employed them under Teamster control. The company fired both men, and the National Labor Relations Board launched an extensive investigation.
Hoffa associates bought the Casa Marina and La Concha hotels, in a transaction that would later land Hoffa in prison. Trafficante surveillance reveals him teaming up with the brother of the sheriff to run a gambling operation out of Key West’s Holiday Inn. Hoffa’s group attempted to open a competing Conch Tour Train, and even contributed $1.5 million toward the construction of the new Memorial Hospital.
Organized crime was expanding in Key West, and some of the moves made people wonder if members of the Key West City Commission were involved. The associated activity left a tangled web of dealers, doctors, developers and dopers woven together through a toxic triangle created by the transit lines connecting Havana, Tampa and Key West.
The organization’s grasp continued to grow, and in 1978, The Tampa Tribune reported on a “crime corporation” of “allegedly organized criminals who specialize in contract murders, hijacking, narcotics, loansharking and counterfeiting.” The report names the leader of the group as former Key West patrolman Sam “The Fat Man” Cagnina and identifies him as the nephew of reputed mob boss Santo Trafficante.
The 1962 National Transportation Safety Board report on Teamsters union activity connects Sam Cagnina and Raimundo Beiro as cousins. Raimundo Beiro’s sister, Estelle Beiro, married Bum Farto in 1955.
It is essential to point out that on an island like Key West, only a few degrees separate any individual from another, and using Bum’s wife to link him to the Tampa mafia would be a stretch.
More appropriate evidence of Bum’s mafia connections comes from a 1995 interview with Farto’s close friend and attorney, Manny James, reported in The Sun-Sentinel. “I admit he had some very close friends in Tampa with a lot of crooked noses,” James said.
This statement leaves no doubt that Bum Farto was connected. The big question is, “Did everyone live happily ever after? Or in death did they part?”