One of the most stolid, hardline crime family bosses in the country, Carlos Marcello ran New Orleans and Louisiana like a closed shop—a tradition in that Mafia chapter since its creation in the last century.
Nobody from any crime family “insulted” Marcello by coming to New Orleans without permission. Informer Joe Valachi once told Vito Genovese, his New York boss, he wished to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Genovese’s reply, Valachi testified, was, “‘Don’t go.’ No explanations, just ‘Don’t go.’ They didn’t want anybody there. And I was told if I ever had to go to Louisiana, Genovese would call ahead and get permission. Genovese himself had to get permission. It was an absolute rule.”
Carlos Marcello was born Calorso Minicari, in Tunis, North Africa, in 1910, of Sicilian parents. He was brought to America at the age of eight months. His first arrest occurred when he was 20 for bank robbery. The case was dismissed, a not unusual beginning for the future bigs of crime. His police record includes such charges as dope peddling, gambling, income tax evasion, robbery and aggravated assault. Marcello won a full pardon from Louisiana’s governor for the assault conviction; the New Orleans family has always enjoyed a cozy relationship with many local and state officials.By the mid-1930s, the young Marcello had become one of the most trusted aides of Mafia boss Sam Carolla, and while the latter sojourned for a brief period in federal prison, Marcello took charge of discussions with the Luciano-Lansky-Costello clique from New York. The trio had wonrights from the Kingfish, Senator Huey Long, to bring their gambling operations and slot machines into the state. In a sense, this violated the New Orleans crime family’s rule excluding outsiders, but the offer was too good for Marcello to refuse. The New Yorkers supplied all the capital, Long provided the political protection, and the New Orleans family took a hefty share of the profits. Years later, an irate Crazy Joe Gallo demanded “Who gave Louisiana to Frank Costello?” It would have been interesting to see how long the Gallos might have lasted had they come down to New Orleans and asked that of Marcello directly.
Over the years Marcello was subjected to a number of deportation attempts, none of them successful. Once, when efforts were being pressed to have him sent to Italy, it was said Marcello responded by sending off a lawyer to Rome with a bagful of money. The going rate for key figures in the Italian Parliament was put at $10,000 each, and, in due course, Carlos Marcello was an enduring ruler of the New Orleans Mafia, an organization that allows no other mafioso to enter the area without special permission. the Italian foreign ministry informed the U.S. government that Marcello was not an Italian citizen and would not be accepted for deportation. Remarkably, the U.S. government had not made until then a formal deportation request. It was said payments continued for another three years while further unsolicited decisions emanated from Rome. The U.S. government did try to interest France and Tunisia to take Marcello, but these efforts came to naught. Finally, in a bizarre episode, the United States virtually kidnapped Marcello and deposited him in Guatemala, claiming he was a citizen of that country.
Finally, facing popular outrage, Guatemala demanded the United States take him back. Washington refused and Marcello was virtually smuggled into El Salvador. From there Marcello and his lawyer trekked through the jungle into Honduras. Then, in a zany conclusion to the affair, Marcello simply got on a commercial airliner to Miami and walked right through customs and immigration without even being checked. He was back in the United States to stay.In December 1960, Attorney General–designate Robert Kennedy announced he had two priority targets on taking office: Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa and Carlos Marcello. Bobby Kennedy’s ability to go after Marcello disappeared with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In the meantime, Marcello had grown in stature within the Mafia. He was consulted on all major syndicate actions and appears to have made friends within the CIA, having been involved in the supposed plots to kill Fidel Castro of Cuba. Ever since the assassination of President Kennedy, theories contrary to the findings of the Warren Commission have often pointed to the Mafia as the real killers, especially toward Santo Trafficante Jr. of the Tampa, Florida, crime family and Marcello, both of whom were quoted as making threats against the Kennedys because of the administration’s pressure on organized crime. According to this thesis, the mob’s real target was Bobby Kennedy. The best way to tame the attorney general’s office was to eliminate the president.
Marcello throughout the years denied the charges. He was subjected to considerable legal problems near the end of his life but persisted in his claim that he was no more than a “legitimate businessman” being harassed by the government. Essentially, Marcello’s rule over his family—out of the country, in prison or on the loose—was ironclad. Also beyond dispute is that Marcello was a multimillionaire, his wealth in 1975 estimated at more than $60 million. In failing health, he died in 1993.