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Lucchese Crime Family

The Lucchese crime family grew out of Joe the Boss Masseria’s outfit of the 1920s.

Tom Reina headed up a sub-group that controlled many Bronx rackets as well as the lucrative ice distribution business in all of New York City. Reina chafed under Masseria’s rule because Joe the Boss demanded such a heavy tribute from him for the rights to operate. When Salvatore Maranzano came on the scene to compete with Masseria for top power, Reina expressed secret sympathy for his cause. Lucky Luciano—then a subchief to Masseria, but secretly working to see that Masseria and Maranzano both continued to weaken each other— became fearful that Reina’s switching sides would throw too much power to Maranzano. Also, Luciano had secret allies serving under Reina, Tom Gagliano and Tommy Lucchese, also known as Three-Finger Brown. If a switch took place, Gagliano and Lucchese might be killed by Masseria. The only solution, Luciano and his followers agreed, was to hit Reina before he could switch. Vito Genovese carried out the execution on a Bronx sidewalk.

Masseria was easily convinced that Maranzano had been behind the hit, while Maranzano figured Masseria had discovered Reina’s duplicity. Masseria, to the anger of Gagliano and Lucchese, brought in his own man to fill Reina’s job, an uncouth mafioso named Joe Pinzolo. Lucchese and another ally murdered Pinzolo, and again Masseria was led to believe it was the work of Maranzano. Now the Luciano forces figured it would be a good thing for Gagliano and Lucchese to switch to Maranzano’s side, but secretly so that Masseria wouldn’t suspect. This gave Luciano extremely valuable spies in the Maranzano camp.

Shortly after the defection, Luciano’s people murdered Masseria and left Maranzano the victor in what was called the Castellammarese War. Luciano was awarded Masseria’s old crime family, and Gagliano took over the Reina group with Lucchese as his underboss, a relationship that continued harmoniously long after the murder of Maranzano (in which Lucchese served as the fingerman, Maranzano never suspecting the close relationship between Luciano and Lucchese) and through the establishment of the new national crime syndicate.

Lucchese in tandem with Louis Lepke handled much of the crime family’s activities in gambling and in the garment district unions. Lucchese took over the crime family on Gagliano’s death from natural causes in 1953 and extended the influence of the family in the political arena. He was a prime backer of Mayor Vincent Impellitteri, the victor in a special mayoral election to replace Mayor William O’Dwyer who had resigned. This victory gave him primacy over Frank Costello and his Tammany Hall ally, Carmine DeSapio, who had backed the losing side. After the election, Lucchese also disclosed his close personal friendship with former federal prosecutor Thomas Murphy (of Alger Hiss fame) whom Impellitteri had named police commissioner. Lucchese died of natural causes in 1967. Leadership passed to Carmine Trumunti, who had had an unspectacular but highly successful career in the rackets in East Harlem. Even Lucchese had not thought highly of him, and he was soon replaced by the much more resourceful Anthony “Tony Ducks” Corallo, described by police as “in gambling, labor racketeering, extortion, strongarm, and murder.” Corallo was involved in a graft scandal during the mayoralty of John Lindsay, which involved as coconspirators DeSapio, the ex-boss of Tammany Hall, and James Marcus, a man intimately involved with the Lindsay administration.

Still under Corallo, the estimated 110 “made” member crime group, with a support force of at least five times that many, was allegedly involved in such criminal activities as narcotics, gambling and loan-sharking, with additional dubious dealings in garbage removal, construction and the garment industry. With Corallo facing a 100-year sentence in 1987, he was said by authorities to have named a longtime confidant, Aniello Migliore, as his stand-in. The Corallo-Migliore era did not last long, and the Luccheses slipped into a decade of murderous disputes, turncoat troubles and wholesale convictions.

The low point for the Luccheses came in the l990s when the organization fell under the sway of boss Vic Amuso and underboss Gas Pipe Casso, who became known in journalistic and legal circles as the “Kill, kill, kill boys.” They were determined to salvage all the riches of the family for themselves despite the relentless onslaught by law enforcement.

They removed more Luccheses than the authorities could with a reign of terror that appalled even the most cold-blooded members of the crime group. More than any other of the New York families, the Luccheses stayed in disarray, jailed by the feds if lucky or murdered by the the Amuso-Casso combine. By the time Amuso was run to earth and taken into custody, he may well have been rather relieved, probably speculating that Gas Pipe was going to eliminate him as well. With both of the A&C boys sent off for life sentences, the theory was that the once powerful Luccheses were ticketed to sure extinction.

That did not quite happen. Despite a continuing period of internal disputes, turncoat woes, and wholesale convictions, the family held together by concentrating on the pockets of racket strengths, at times in the garment industry and especially the construction field, in the process sharing the loot in certain situations with either the Gambino or Genovese crime groups.

In 1998 the latest acting boss, Joseph A. DeFede, faced prosecution for garment industry rackets, auguring more intrafamily violence, although the family still was potent with an estimated 120 wise guys and some relatively safe rackets.

In the post-2000 era the mantle of acting boss had passed to Steven L. Crea who was known to his followers as a “genius at construction”—in rackets, that is. When Crea was busted by New York authorities, the spectre arose again of the Luccheses once more slipping back into murderous chaos. That might not happen since both the Gambinos and the Genoveses may need them in reestablishing their powers in certain fields. As one observer put it, the Mafia families are the true nine-live cats of the underworld.