Genovese Crime FamilyLucky Luciano, who triumphed as a result of the Mafia wars of the early 1930s, reconstituted the five crime families that had been apportioned by the late, deposed Salvatore Maranzano. Maintaining control of the crime group previously headed by Joe the Boss Masseria, Luciano had inherited that family when he arranged the murder of Masseria. Within the New York Mafia, it remained for several decades the largest and most powerful of the crime families. In this family, soldier-cum-informer Joe Valachi served under a succession of bosses—first Luciano, followed by Frank Costello, then Vito Genovese. Costello took over when Luciano, convicted on a prostitution count in 1936, was sent to prison. By rights Genovese, as Luciano’s underboss, should have succeeded, but he had his own problems with the law. Fearing prosecution on a murder rap, he fled to Italy, where he was to ingratiate himself with Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Costello was not an ordinary godfather. He had little time for family affairs, being too involved in his own private criminal enterprises with Meyer Lansky and others—activities that stretched from New York to New Orleans, and later to Las Vegas and Havana, Cuba. As a result, Costello allowed his various capos considerable independence in running the rackets. Either because of this or despite it, more members of the family became millionaires than in any other Mafia group. Joe Valachi later said he knew of 40 or 50 members of the family who were millionaires. This and Costello’s expertise at arranging the political fix — for which he was nicknamed “the Prime Minister” — made him very popular with his capos and soldiers.
After World War II, Genovese was returned to the United States for trial on that old murder charge, but nothing came of it; a couple of well-timed murders eliminated the key witnesses against him. A tug of war developed between Costello and Genovese, with Costello yielding slowly. Little by little Genovese eroded Costello’s power, and when Willie Moretti was murdered, Costello lost a lot of armed muscle that would have stood up for him. Costello shrewdly countered by goading the murderous Albert Anastasia into killing his own bosses in the Mangano family — Vince and Phil Mangano — and taking over. Anastasia now controlled more firepower than ever before and, being totally loyal to Costello, was the perfect foil for Genovese.
Six years elapsed before Genovese felt powerful enough to take on Costello once again. In 1957, he plotted an unsuccessful attempt on Costello’s life. Later the same year, he was the key man behind the barbershop rubout of Anastasia. Genovese was assisted by Anastasia underling Carlo Gambino, who seized control of the Anastasia crime family, but then maneuvered against Genovese. Gambino conspired with Costello, Meyer Lansky and the exiled Luciano, all of whom had come to hate and fear Genovese’s ambitions to become a new “boss of bosses.” Before their plans were implemented, Costello won approval from all the crime families to have the right to retire and keep his income. In exchange, Genovese won control of the old Luciano family. He didn’t reign long. The Apalachin fiasco caused Genovese to lose face. Then the Gambino-Costello- Luciano-Lansky alliance finished him off by setting him up in a phony drug deal. Genovese was railroaded to prison for 15 years, where he died in 1969. Although Genovese continued to rule his outfit from behind bars — using Jerry Catena or Tony Bender as his outside men — his power was waning. He used Bender to arrange a number of hits, but later, suspecting Bender had been in on the plot against him, ordered his elimination. After Catena retired to Florida with a heart condition, Genovese relied on Tommy Eboli as his outside man. Eboli was a man of action and not particularly adept at thinking independently. Slowly, the Genovese family lost its muscle, and the shrewd Gambino, up till then head of a relatively small crime group, gained in power and prestige until he had the foremost organization in the country — far mightier than the outfit he had forcibly inherited from Anastasia.
From his cell Genovese cursed this turn of events, but could do nothing about it. Further weakened by the testimony given by Valachi — which hurt him more than any other mafioso — Genovese was alternately criticized by mobsters for forcing Valachi to “rat” and for failing to eradicate him. Gambino, much like Luciano in the 1930s, became the de facto boss of bosses. He decided he had to do something about the Genovese family, which was floundering under the inane rule of Eboli — a man who was described by one mafioso as “not giving a damn if his boys were making out or starving.”Gambino arranged for Eboli’s elimination in 1972. He replaced him with Frank “Funzi” Tieri, a close personal friend in the Genovese group and highly popular. Tieri brought the Genoveses backstrong, while remaining a firm Gambino loyalist. With Gambino’s death in 1976, Tieri reached his primacy and regained much of the esteem and powerthe crime family had enjoyed earlier. Tieri’s name could invoke fear in mafiosi all around the country if there was an indication that he was in any way unhappy. Overall, Tieri was happy except about the situation in Atlantic City, where casino gambling was legalized in 1976. Angelo Bruno, the longtime boss in Philadelphia, refused to give up control of the area. Allegedly, Tieri posted a $250,000 bounty on Bruno. In 1980, someone must have collected; Bruno was assassinated. Tieri’s family and the Gambino crime group moved in. When Tieri died in 1981, the fortunes of the family declined once again. Law enforcement officials weren’t quite sure who ruled the Genoveses. Some said it was elderly Philip “Cockeyed Phil” Lombardo, while others named Fat Tony Salerno. The federal government, during the national commission prosecution in the mid-1980s, singled out Salerno. Whoever held the reins, the Genovese crime family remained the second most powerful in the nation, with major muscle in gambling, narcotics, loansharking, and extortion rackets. The family also maintained considerable interest in waterfront activities in Brooklyn and New Jersey, New York’s Times Square pornography business, labor unions, the carting industry, restaurants, seafood distributors and vending machines. Genovese membership was estimated at 200 in the late 1980s, with perhaps three times as many supporters who were not “made” mafiosi. In 1987 with Salerno under a 100-year sentence the active leadership of the family passed to Vinnie “the Chin” Gigante, who became famous for his ploy of walking the street in a bathrobe and mumbling to himself in an effort to appear mentally defective and unable to face prosecution. That act finally collapsed in 1997 when Gigante was imprisoned. The leadership of the family then passed to Dominick “Quiet Dom” Cirillo. After Cirillo was forced into the background because of ill health, the leadership situation became more of a blur, but the numbers of members convinced some observers that the family was still a viable force in the new Mafia. While prosecutors celebrated having the Genoveses “on the run,” others were impressed that one sweep alone took in 73 “leaders and associates” of the crime family. The group simply turned up new members by the dozens, hardly the sign of an organization withering away. Since the arrests of the 73 represented probably a third of the wise guy membership of the family at about 200–250 at most, it had to be a considerable haul, especially since 45 others had been netted about a half year earlier for other offenses. In the latest case, the indicted individuals were hit for a number of allegations including racketeering charges bringing in millions, including $1 million in the embezzlement of a carpenters’ union based in Tuckahoe, New York. Other charges included labor racketeering, loan-sharking, illegal gambling operations, gun trafficking and distributing counterfeit money. The most spectacular charge was one involving a number of the defendants in a plot to steal $6 million in payroll money from a printing plant owned by the New York Times. The plan was foiled by an undercover detective who had “risked his safety on almost a daily basis” in an investigation that lasted more than three years. The detective later moved outside the city to avoid being recognized by a Genovese crew charged with uprooting undercover agents. The mob efforts were fruitless; the plot cracked, and arrests were made. According to prosecutors and spokesmen for some news publications, the mob planted a member of the gang inside among newspaper company production people to learn about big money shipments. One of the main plotters was said to be Anthony Capanelli, who worked as a fill-in pressman from time to time for the New York Post. He worked with a former police officer known as Joe Dingha to set up the aborted caper. As a top member of the investigative team put it, “We will permit no such return to ‘business as usual’ for members of organized crime and criminal element in New York.” As a result it became obvious that government claims of having “wiped out” or even “crippling” the Mafia crime families were far from accurate. The truth was that the Mafia was not down and out but rather showed the ability to climb back on the canvas to keep up the criminal fight.