Everyone was afraid of him whether he was on the street or behind bars. By the late 1970s, Carmine Galante, the boss of the Bonanno family even from prison, was dreaded by the Mafia underworld. He would be getting out shortly and there would be all-out war. Galante was, after Carlo Gambino’s death in 1976, considered to be the toughest mobster among the New York crime families. No one boss was considered mean, cunning or ruthless enough to stand up to the Cigar, as he was called because of the ever-present cigar clenched between his teeth.
No one ever came up with an accurate estimate of how many murders Galante committed or how many more he later ordered in a life of crime that dated back to when he was 11 years old. Galante was the button man in a number of murders ordered by Vito Genovese, including the “clipping” of radical journalist Carlo Tresca in New York in 1943. At the time, Genovese was in Italy actively currying favors with Benito Mussolini, who wanted Tresca’s antifascist activities stopped.
Galante was already in the Joe Bonanno family and would in time become Bonanno’s driver and eventually his underboss. As such he was a willing confederate in Bonanno’s grand plan to expand the crime family’s interest south to Florida and the Caribbean and north into Canada. Galante won a reputation with other mobsters as being “as greedy as Joe Bananas.”
It was a relief to most other mobs, if not to Bonanno, when Galante was sent to prison for 20 years in the early 1960s for a narcotics violation. In 1964 Bonanno further enraged the other mobs by plotting to eliminate most of the governing leadership of the rival families, which led to the famous Banana War that ended in the ruination of Bonanno’s plans and his hopes to install his son as the successor as head of the crime family. Meanwhile, Galante plotted his strategy behind bars. He regarded no one in the Bonanno family as his equal and looked forward to accomplishing what his old boss had failed to do. Mainly, as he told others in the federal penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, he would “make Carlo Gambino shit in the middle of Times Square.”
Galante got out on parole in 1974 after doing 12 years. Suddenly he said nothing. In time of war Galante believed one should not talk but rather kill, kill, kill. Yet he had to move slowly because the ailing but shrewd Gambino was ready for his forays. Then in 1978 Galante was grabbed by federal agents again and returned to prison for violating parole by associating with known criminals – other Mafia figures.
The government tried to keep him behind bars, claiming a contract had been issued against Galante. Using lawyer Roy Cohn, who labeled the story a trick by the government, Galante won his release.
Over the next several months at least eight Genovese family gangsters were cut down by Galante gunmen in a war for control of a multimillion-dollar drug operation. With Gambino dead, Galante leaned on the other crime families to fall in behind him – or else. The word he sent out was, “Who among you is going to stand up to me?”
The fact was there was no one. There was, however, according to later reports via the underworld grapevine, a meeting in Boca Raton, Florida, to decide what was to be done about the Cigar. From there messengers were sent out to mob leaders asking approval for a contract on Galante. Among the big shots in on the original planning were Jerry Catena, Santo Trafficante, Frank Tieri and Paul Castellano. Phil Rastelli, then in jail, was consulted as was even the semi-retired Joe Bonanno who it was felt might retain some paternal feeling for his former close associate. Bonanno was said to approve.
On July 12, 1979, Galante made a “spur of the moment” decision to drop into Joe and Mary’s Restaurant in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. The owner, Joseph Turano, Galante’s cousin, was leaving on a vacation trip to Italy soon, so it was an educated guess that Galante would drop in some time.Galante did not trust many men but he trusted those with him that day. It was a mistake. One left the restaurant early, complaining of not feeling well. A couple of others made phone calls during the meal. Just as Galante finished the main course in the restaurant’s rear outdoor area and stuck a cigar in his mouth, three masked men suddenly came through the indoor section into the courtyard. “Get him, Sal!” one of the masked men yelled. One of the executioners stepped forward and cut lose with both barrels of a shotgun. Galante died with his cigar still in his mouth.
The Cigar problem had been solved.