Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The day America found out about La Cosa Nostra

The Cosa Nostra men (l. to r.) Attorney Jack Wasserman, Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, Frank Ragano, Attorney Anthony Carollo, Frank Cagliano and John Marcello at La Stella Restaurant after appearing before the Queens Grand Jury.
The Cosa Nostra men (l. to r.) Attorney Jack Wasserman, Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, Frank Ragano, Attorney Anthony Carollo, Frank Cagliano and John Marcello at La Stella Restaurant after appearing before the Queens Grand Jury.
From Mafia Summit by Gil Reavill. Copyright © 2013 by the author and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.
From Mafia Summit by Gil Reavill. Copyright © 2013 by the author and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.
Until Nov. 14, 1957, the American public didn’t believe the Mafia existed. J. Edgar Hoover had told them just that. But a summit of the nation’s most powerful crime bosses in a small upstate New York town changed that. Tension was already high with the murderous Vito Genovese, who aimed to take over The Commission, eyeing the heads of New York’s Five Families. Then the cops massed on the road. A hundred mafiosi fled by car or on foot through the fields, or hunkered down to wait the law out. The Apalachin Meeting made headlines and history. Gil Reavill tells what happened in the room that day in “Mafia Summit: J. Edgar Hoover, The Kennedy Brothers, and the Meeting that Unmasked the Mob.”

The wholesale meat truck violates the Sabbath to deliver its load Sunday, November 14. Twenty ten-pound boxes of steaks, two of veal, a $432 purchase, which in current-day terms is $3,500.
The barbecue structure itself stands as a thing of beauty. It’s a barbecue in the sense that the Great Pyramid of Giza is a mausoleum. The grillwork is fabricated out of welded stainless steel, very expensive. Sited in the yard between the garage and the summer house, a massive, blocky pile constructed out of quarried stone to match the house, the edifice boasts its own awning to shield the cook from the elements.
To the east of the barbecue, a screened-in pavilion lends a recreational air to the arrangement, with a pair of Gibbons Beer and Ale clocks in the dim interior. The back of the big four-bay garage completes the composition of the central compound, everything in fieldstone, everything country-gentleman rustic.
Mansion in Apalachin, N.Y.
Around ten o’clock, Joe Profaci, the first of the New York godfathers (the Gambino family) to arrive, shows up. Only nobody says “godfather.” If you say anything, you say compare, which in Sicilian dialect comes out sounding like “goomba.” Profaci is 60 but aging tough, like old leather. Beginning a procedure common to all the major bosses, he’s led into the main house into the formal living room to the right of entryway.
The big, well-furnished space is where all the men of major respect will be seated. It’s where the real business of the summit is conducted. Casement windows look out onto the forested foothills. Hundreds of feet of mauve and green drapes, encased in wooden valences, line the east and west walls. Sometimes it’s good to have friends in the drapery business.
By eleven o’clock, the arrivals come one after another, Paul Castellano driving up accompanied by Carlo Gambino, Vito Genovese arriving with Joe Ida from Philly.
Joe Bonanno is there, so is Sam Giancana, Carmine Galante, Steven Magaddino. The Cuban gambling-and-smuggling cartel is well represented by Santo Trafficante and Carlos Marcello’s brother Joe.
Carmine Lombardozzi
Bosses and underlings. Carmine Lombardozzi car pools with Natale Evola from Brooklyn, Joe Riccobono from Staten Island, and Frank Cucchiara from Boston.
Land boats line the road, crowd the garage lot, and spill out into the field.
While the members of the Commission gather in the living room of the main house, the underbosses, soldiers, and random hangers-on congregate in the summer house and, despite the morning drizzle, beneath the barbecue canopy in the middle of the yard. The boys eye the beefsteaks like a votive offering.
First, a little business. In the living room of the big ranch house, Commission members Genovese, Profaci, Bonanno, Giancana, Steven Magaddino and Trafficante (included by virtue of connection with Meyer Lansky and Cuba) have gathered.
On the agenda: heroin, Cuba, divvying up Albert Anastasia’s piece of the pie. Also, the elephant in the room, how best to recognize Vito’s status in the overheated, competitive world of the Five Families of New York City.
Natale Evola
Genovese’s presence overwhelms the gathering. The “Right Man” is sitting right there. He wants to be crowned. He wants the capo dei capi, the boss-of-bosses title. With Costello wounded and out of the way, and Anastasia dead, who is there to deny him?
It doesn’t look as though a simple “godfather” label is going to do it for Vito. Maybe just plain “God”? How about that? Would that satisfy his unquenchable thirst for power?
The boys outside half expect to see fumata Bianca, white smoke, gush from the chimney, just like at the Vatican when a Pope is elected.
The other Commission members can be forgiven if they feel a sense of foreboding at the prospect of Vito’s elevation. A couple of them, Bonanno and Profaci, might even have thought that it would be great if the hand of fate simply reached down and swept Genovese away. Otherwise, all the bosses present are going to have Vito sitting on top of them like some voracious giant, flexing his muscle, taking his percentage, calling the shots.
Does Profaci say a private novena for Vito’s demise? Mobsters, like everyone else, should be careful what they pray for.
Unwilling to face the big issues, the Commission bosses dither a bit. They take care of a minor problem before moving on to the main items of the agenda. Waiting out in the garage’s recreation room is Carmine Lombardozzi, sometime Brooklyn stevedore, shylock, gambler, mob captain and, when it comes down to it, Albert’s guy, left hanging in the wind when his boss got whacked.
Santo Trafficante poses in Sans Souci night club.
A shylock and extortion specialist who is deep into boiler-room stock market scams, Lombardozzi stands accused of playing fast and loose with all his coin from a jukebox racket, not kicking a sufficient percentage up the ladder to the bosses.
For him, at least, this is the serious part of the summit. Lombardozzi is under a sentence of death. He doesn’t really think anyone is going to ace him right there at the barbecue, but even so, it can upset a person’s equilibrium.
After an interminable wait, (Joseph) Magliocco (Profaci’s brother-in-law) brings news of the decision of the bosses: death sentence commuted, fine of $10,000 levied instead.
Ten large? J----. Lombardozzi has a flicker of doubt that maybe he might prefer death instead. That small matter taken care of, the bosses inside the house take up the issue of the heroin trade.
The new Narcotics Control Act passed the previous year is on everyone’s mind. Serious prison time — years, not months — now await anyone caught dealing dope. The bosses want no part of that, of course, but somehow cannot quite see giving up enormous profits at the other end of the equation.
Vito has already announced his “no dope” policy. But there’s wiggle room. Joe Bonanno, just back from Sicily, the man with the most experience in the Marseilles-to-Montreal narcotics route, comes up with a compromise, one already sketched out at the Hotel et des Palmes meet.
Spin off the importing and smuggling business onto foreigners. The Corsicans, Bonanno means, the “sixth family” he dealt with in Montreal. On the American Mafia’s end, the boys will stick to retail on a case-by-case basis.
Carmine Galante
Even though, with his string of nightclubs, he’s Mister Retail Heroin, Vito says he doesn’t like it. But Magaddino and Bonanno gang up against him, and the vote goes their way.
Henceforth, the American Mafia gets out of the wholesale heroin smuggling business as just too damn liable to bring heat from the Feds. Retail street distribution, that’s another matter. It’s every made man for himself.
They’re about to move on to another item on the agenda, the question of who inherits Anastasia’s Brooklyn fiefdom. Carlo Gambino waits in the wings. It’s his moment.
Second-level guys like Jerry Catena, John Ormento, Carlo himself, captains and underbosses, mostly stay at the opposite side of the house.
They’re the ones nearest the kitchen. They get the news first.
One of the women at the table there looks out the window onto McFall Road parked thick with cars.
“Hey, it’s that state trooper,” she says.
Charles "Lucky" Luciano convicted of vice charges, is leaving court on June 18, 1936 handcuffed to two detectives after a hearing in New York. Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Carlo Gambino are long gone.
She doesn’t shout it out, either, just states it like it’s an ordinary everyday fact. A shiver goes through the assembled mobsters, similar to one that might pass over a herd of antelope, say, when a lioness is sighted far off over the savannah. There isn’t a stampede. Not yet, Just a nervous stirring.
At that same moment, two things happen outside in the compound. Bartolo Guccia, the fishmonger and jack-of-all-trades who has just dropped off a delivery, drives his little panel van out of the compound and up McFall Road.
And a group of mobsters come around the corner of the garage, having just fetched Carmine Lombardozzi. They’re laughing and congratulating him for slipping out from under a death sentence.
Lombardozzi is in the middle of the group. Moving forward, they pull up short, getting a clear view of what their friends inside don’t see.
The law. They spot a pair of staties standing just where the asphalt runs and the road turns back to dirt. Two more cops join the first two, so now there are four, staring across the twenty yards of road and field and compound, just like they’re looking down a rifle sight.
The group around Lombardozzi sees that the cops allow Bartolo to pass them by. The police are jotting down plate numbers of the cars parked along McFall. They’re in plainclothes, but nobody at the summit has to have a badge shoved in his face to know exactly what they represent.
A short but excruciating period of waiting ensues. The mobsters mill, uncertain. Are the staties busting people? Or are they just checking license plates?
Gangster discipline is notoriously hit or miss. The gathering quickly descends into an every-man-for-himself situation. Who will go, who stays, who drives out and in which car, who heads for the hills on foot, it all shakes out by itself.
No one needs to be told to dump weapons and get rid of anything extraneous and incriminating.
There’s some getting straight on the “visiting a sick friend” story that will be repeated, in the coming hours, ad nauseam. Mixed-up carloads start to form, Jersey and Brooklyn and Scranton jammed in together, nobody knowing who’s who or what.
“Don’t worry, don’t worry,” says the host, Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara, passing through the gathering, trying to staunch the panic. “Those knuckleheads come around here all the time. They never do nothing.”
Then Bart Guccia rattles back down the road in his piece-of-s—-- fish truck, pulling up next to the garage, leaning out of the window to utter the horrible, magic word.
It’s over.


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