Updated: Apr 16, 2020
Even as a teenager in the 1930s, John Dioguardi, better known as Johnny Dio, had a reputation as a frightening figure, capable of terrifying Garment District employers into joining mob-dominated trucking associations. He achieved national attention in 1956, after federal authorities brought him up on charges related to the brutal acid attack that blinded the crusading anti-racketeering journalist Victor Riesel. When the case against Dio fell apart after the government’s witnesses, fearing for their lives, refused to testify, Life magazine labeled the result, “a shocking show of underworld power.” But if he was notorious, Dio could also be a useful ally. The Teamster leader, James R. Hoffa, formed a strategic alliance with Dio in the mid-1950s, as he sought to expand his influence in New York City. Those ties later became the subject of Congressional hearings, where both Hoffa and Dio were called to testify. Newspapers across the country featured the image of a snarling Dio attacking a photographer on his way into those hearings. By 1959, the Reader’s Digest observed that “Johnny Dio” had “become a household word synonymous with union racketeering.” Together Hoffa and Dio became two potent symbols of the national threat posed by labor racketeering, a danger which the Congressional hearings framed with tropes earlier invoked against communism.
Johnny Dio throws a punch at a press reporter at the McClellan Committee hearings. Getty Images