William “Willie” Cammisano Jr., once considered to be an underboss within Kansas City organized crime, died Tuesday at age 73.
More than a decade after largely fading from public view, Cammisano spent much of his final years with severe illness. In a GoFundMe launched in 2021, his family reported of his ailing health after first contracting COVID-19 in July 2020.
Family of Cammisano could not be immediately reached by The Star for comment.
As an alleged leader of the mob in Kansas City, Cammisano was sentenced to two stints in federal prison — once in the late 1980s and a second time in 2011. Among the cases brought against him over the span of four decades: He was accused by federal authorities of pressuring a witness to lie to a federal grand jury in a murder investigation and later for helping to run an illegal sports book.
During the 1980s and 1990s, members of the Cammisano family were alleged to have wielded heavy influence in the Kansas City mob scene and overseen a semi-independent arm of the Civella crime family. Cammisano was the son of William “Willie The Rat” Cammisano Sr., who was identified by the FBI as the top crime boss in Kansas City around 1988.
The nickname for the elder Cammisano had two known explanations.
A former Kansas City businessman testified in 1980 before a U.S. Senate committee that the elder Cammisano was responsible for his father’s murder and earned the moniker “because he killed people and stuck them in the sewers so the rats could eat them.” The elder Cammisano argued the nickname was actually “Willie Rats,” which he attributed to a boyhood practice of loaning out his rat terrier “Trixie” to neighbors with rodent problems.
The elder Cammisano, a four-time felon suspected of being involved though never criminally charged in several killings, was identified by the FBI as taking the reins in the Kansas City criminal underworld around the time leaders of the Civella crime family were sent to prison.
The younger Cammisano at the time allegedly ran day-to-day operations as a capo, or lieutenant, though Cammisano long maintained he and his family had no involvement whatsoever with organized crime.
The younger Cammisano, meanwhile, was twice convicted in federal court on cases with alleged mob ties.
In the first case, Cammisano was accused of threatening a witness involved in a federal murder investigation — a situation he described as a misunderstanding that involved a $50,000 bet over a game of golf. He was found guilty on one count of obstruction of justice and sentenced to five years in prison.
During a sentencing hearing in that case in 1989, FBI agents testified that Cammisano was a “made member” of the Kansas City mob. He was also named as a subject of interest in two gangland killings the FBI was investigating at the time, though he was never charged in connection.
A federal appeals court later found that prosecutors had not produced enough evidence tying Cammisano to leadership of organized crime activities, which carried enhanced penalties, and reduced his sentence by two years.
In September 1994, following his release from prison, the Missouri Gaming Commission moved to ban Cammisano from the state’s riverboat casinos. During a hearing to appeal the decision, Cammisano told commissioners his father was “a great man” and denied any connections of his family to organized crime.
In January 1997, the Nevada Gaming Control Board also placed Cammisano in its Black Book — a list of persons barred from entering a Las Vegas casino. The Las Vegas Sun newspaper reported at the time that Cammisano was nominated for addition to the banned list after officials became aware of multiple visits to the city by reputed Kansas City mob members.
“He was a shadowy character,” said Gary Jenkins, a retired Kansas City police detective who worked in the intelligence unit until 1996. Jenkins said Cammisano’s latest conviction in 2010 marked a rare example of a mob figure taking a plea instead of heading to trial.
Cammisano’s notoriety had waned until his most recent brush with the law in 2010. He was charged in the Western District of Missouri for allegedly running a multi-million dollar illegal online gambling operation.
Prosecutors alleged Cammisano helped manage a $3.6 million illegal sports betting business that opened in 2006 and closed shop three years later amid a federal investigation. The business used a toll-free 1-800 phone number and websites operated out of Costa Rica to handle bets on sporting events.
In 2010, Cammisano pleaded guilty in federal court to conducting an illegal gambling business, a felony, in another case investigated by the FBI.
In his plea agreement, Cammisano personally admitted to handling a stable of bettors who wagered a total of $1.1 million. The FBI seized $60,000 from his bank accounts that was later forfeited to the federal government.
In January 2011, Cammisano was sentenced to a year and a day in prison. He was among six people — including his brother Gerlarmo “Jerry” Cammisano, whom federal prosecutors at the time called the “master agent” behind the online sports book — who pleaded guilty to taking part in the criminal enterprise.
In the online fundraiser launched last year on behalf of Cammisano, the webpage says he fell ill with COVID-19 in July 2020 and suffered a long battle with illness. Complications included a monthslong coma and two strokes that ultimately required around-the-clock medical care not covered by his health insurance.
A brief obituary published online Wednesday by Passantino Bros. Funeral Home says Cammisano was living in Harrisonville at the time of his death. Services were scheduled to be held Friday at Holy Rosary Catholic Church.
This story was originally published January 18, 2023 7:56 PM.