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Colombo Crime Family

The first don of what was later called the Colombo crime family, Joe Profaci, came to power upon the conclusion of the Castellammarese War. Profaci thus served with Lucky Luciano, Vince Mangano, Joe Bonanno and Tom Gagliano as head of one of the five Mafia families in New York that comprised the nucleus of the Mafia force in the national crime syndicate.

Giuseppe “Joe” Profaci

Joseph Valachi

Profaci ruled for more than three decades, an amazing feat since he was regarded by other mafiosi and many of his own soldiers as the worst don in New York. Profaci’s failing—greed. Alone among the dons Profaci levied a tax of $25 a month from each member, allegedly to build a slush fund to take care of mobsters who got arrested. Of course, he pocketed the funds. And he constantly demanded tribute. Joe Valachi later quoted Carmine “the Snake” Persico as complaining: “Even if we go hijack some trucks he taxes us. I paid up to $1,800.”

Eventually Profaci was faced with revolt. A number of his soldiers, including the kill-crazy Gallo brothers, Persico and Jiggs Forlano (a capo and perhaps the biggest loan shark in New York), were rumbling for his demise. Ever cunning, Profaci was not about to cave in to all the rebels and so he divided them, promising rewards that brought Persico, Forlano and others back into the fold, while leaving the Gallos out in the cold. (Persico and Forlano became the staunchest battlers against the Gallos for Profaci.)

Joseph Charles Bonanno, Sr

Vito Genovese

Profaci died in 1962 and the power passed to his underboss Joe Magliocco. Like Profaci, Magliocco was upset the way two of the other city crime bosses, Carlo Gambino and Tommy Lucchese, had been interfering in Profaci affairs. Now they tried to undercut Magliocco. Gambino clearly had designs to dominate the Profacis. Only Joe Bonanno stood with Profaci and his successor, while the fifth boss, Vito Genovese, was in prison at the time.

It was now that Bonanno, in his own quest for supremacy, concocted a scheme to kill off Gambino and Lucchese, as well as a few other crime bosses around the country. It may be that Bonanno felt he had no options, that if Magliocco fell, Gambino would turn next on the Bonanno family.

Magliocco agreed to join Bonanno in his plot and gave out the contracts on the two New York City leaders to a dependable hit-man capo for Profaci, Joe Colombo. But Colombo was not dependable this time. Instead of carrying out the hits, he revealed the plot to the intended victims. This lead eventually to the so-called Banana War to dethrone Bonanno; but Magliocco tumbled easier. Summoned to appear before the commission of which he was a member, Magliocco, extremely ill and suddenly very tired, confessed. He was allowed to live (he was to die of a heart ailment in a matter of months) and dethroned.

The grateful Gambino installed the accommodating Joe Colombo as Profaci family chief and thus gained another firm vote in the commission. In time Gambino would rue his choice of Colombo, a man who had ambitious ideas. One idea that Gambino bought at first was that it would be smart to rally Italian Americans into an anti-defamation league to say they were being smeared by all this talk about an Italian Mafia. Actually what Colombo wanted to do was clothe the Mafia with the respectability of the vast majority of Italian Americans. (By contrast the Jewish Anti-Defamation League has never objected to stories about Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Gurrah Shapiro, Louis Lepke, Mickey Cohen, Mendy Weiss, Arnold Rothstein or Jake Guzik and other Jewish gangsters.)

After a year of protests by Italian Americans led by Colombo, including picketing of the FBI offices in New York, Gambino had enough and ordered Colombo to cool it. He didn’t and he was assassinated.

Unlike other volumes on the Mafia this book will offer no chart listing the various Mafia crime families and their bosses and other leaders. One reason is that any such chart, given the nature of the mob, is subject to abrupt change. But more important, the chart would be inaccurate. Federal listings and those of state and local police agencies frequently vary with one another about who was or is in power when.

The post-Colombo succession was a particular special problem for law enforcement agencies. Despite the fact that hostility between Colombo and the FBI made it the most intensely watched crime family, it took the government three years to discover the new boss was Thomas DiBella. That was with four federal agencies and three local agencies maintaining 24-hour surveillance and eavesdropping on both the Colombo and Gambino families. In 1971 when Colombo was shot (he lingered in a vegetable state for seven years) DiBella was listed as only a low-ranking soldier in the Colombos. Actually DiBella, a retired tractor foreman on the docks, had been in the mob since 1932, but until 1974 no one in official circles ever suspected his importance. He had only one conviction, for bootlegging in 1932.

Because of age, DiBella eventually stepped aside for younger blood although he continued as a top adviser. The leadership passed to former rebel Carmine Persico. There would have been an era of peace for the mob—the Gallo threat had been settled with the death of Larry Gallo and the assassination of Crazy Joe Gallo—except for Persico’s constant involvement in criminal prosecutions. He was to spend a total of 10 of the 13 years prior to 1985 in various prisons. The family was in something like chaos until Jerry Langella wrested the leadership to himself, subject to some dispute from Persico at a later date. By late 1986, with both Persico and Langella facing long years in prison, authorities indicated that Victor Orena, a distant Persico relative, had been named boss pro tem.

The family can only boast of about 115 members as well as a few hundred more supporters, making it with today’s Lucchese crime family one of the two smallest in New York. But the roster of crimes the family is involved in is impressive: narcotics trafficking, gambling, loan-sharking, cigarette smuggling, pornography, counterfeiting, hijacking and bankruptcy frauds, to name just a few.

Murder is also in the picture, but the boys can be rather understanding about that. According to the police, one potential victim asked that he not be put in cement blocks and tossed into the Gowanus Canal, mob standard procedure. He requested that instead his body be dumped in the streets so that “my family won’t have such a hassle getting my life insurance.”

The boys agreed, but for various reasons the hit was not carried out. Maybe the Colombos aren’t that bad a sort