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

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Throwback Story: Frankie Abbatemarco is the opening casualty in the Profaci family civil war

Although he spent his life among men who kept cold pistols and leather-clad saps close to their skin, Frankie Shots was caught unaware when the Grim Reaper arrived with a bang-bang.
Frank Abbatemarco, 59, stepped out of Cardiello's beer joint in Brooklyn at 8 p.m. on Nov. 4, 1959. The saloon was on Fourth Ave. at Carroll St., where Park Slope tumbles downhill toward the Gowanus Canal.
Two men in topcoats and fedoras ambushed Abbatemarco before the bar door closed behind him. Shots rang out as he turned to scramble back inside. At least one hit the target, and a second shattered the barroom door.
The hit men chased Abbatemarco into the tavern and fired six more shots to finish the job.
Abbatemarco was a big league bookie, and the police brass ordered "an immediate roundup of all known professional gamblers in South Brooklyn."
Cops knocked down a few doors at numbers dens, and they arrested six Italian-American men for nothing more than vagrancy. They also collared the bar owners, brothers Joseph and Anthony Cardiello, cousins of Abbatemarco.
But the brass might as well have announced that they had no chance of solving the murder.
Frankie Shots was killed as the first act of a Mafia civil war that pitted the old guard of Joe Profaci's Brooklyn gang against the upstart Gallo brothers, Larry, Albert and Crazy Joe.
Abbatemarco was a pawn - or maybe a rook - in a fight destined to expose intimate details about the city's secretive Mafia families.
Born in 1899, he grew up in Red Hook, with the Gallo family, and made an early habit of having his fingers rolled in ink at the local police stationhouse. He did two years in prison on a narcotics rap, among eight arrests.
Abbatemarco made a living running numbers for Profaci, a Sicilian immigrant and olive oil importer who was anointed Brooklyn boss at a national mob sit-down in Cleveland in 1928.
Round and bald with hooded eyes, Frankie Shots proved to have the requisite mob bookmaker's traits: lots of pockets, a knack for ciphering, a good memory, and a custom of making on-time "tribute" payments to Profaci.
In 1952, Abbatemarco was a Profaci captain living high as top cat of the South Brooklyn numbers rackets. His crew was a cash machine, raking in $2.5 million a year - nearly $7,000 a day, much of it coming a buck at a time from working stiffs and grandmas playing their numbers in the shadow lottery.
By the late '50s, Abbatemarco and many of his colleagues had begun to resent the tribute payments to Profaci. The boss lived like a king, with mansions in Florida and New Jersey, and made extravagant donations to Catholic causes.
Yet Profaci demanded a $25 monthly tithe from members of his crime family, no matter what hardships they faced. He was regarded by his soldiers not as a benevolent godfather but as a stone-hearted miser.
The Gallo brothers saw an opportunity for a coup, and they recruited sympathetic colleagues, including Frankie Shots.
In 1959, Abbatemarco stopped paying tribute to Profaci. By that fall, the debt had grown to $50,000, and Profaci demanded the bookmaker pay up.
ABBATEMARCO was counseled by the Gallo boys to stand pat. Late payment had never been a death sentence in the Mafia, and the fact that Frankie Shots was going around without protection on that November day indicates he did not believe his life was in jeopardy.
He was wrong.
Profaci made an example of Abbatemarco. The boss took away the livelihood of his crew, handing the South Brooklyn numbers rackets to his own relatives. He also demanded that the Gallos hand over Anthony Abbatemarco, Frankie Shots' son and a mob up-and-comer who had gone into hiding.
The maneuvers led to open warfare within the Profaci mob family and kept the Mafia on newspaper front pages through a series of retaliatory kidnappings, murders and shootings. Larry Gallo escaped an attempted strangulation at the Sahara club on Utica Ave. in East Flatbush, and Carmine (Junior) Persico, a fearsome young Gallo ally who later switched sides, survived a hit.
By 1962, the unrelenting press and police attention of the fighting was grating on New York's other crime bosses, including Carlo Gambino and Tommy Luchese, who were accustomed to doing business beyond the blinking glare of Speed Graphic flashbulbs.
Gambino and Luchese asked Joe Profaci to step aside as boss for the greater good of the mob families. Profaci angrily refused, but liver cancer soon made his resignation moot.
He died on June 6, 1962, and was eventually replaced by Joseph Colombo, a Profaci captain. As a sign of Profaci's poor reputation, the crime family adopted Colombo's name - and still has it today.
The fallout and resentment from the civil war continued for years. Many believe Crazy Joe Gallo was an unseen hand behind the infamous shooting of Colombo at an Italian Unity Day rally at Columbus Circle on June 28, 1971. (Colombo lingered in a coma for seven years before dying.)
Gallo's world-famous comeuppance came on April 7, 1972, when he was assassinated by gunmen while dining with his family at Umberto's Clam House in Little Italy.
Frank Abbatemarco, the man whose murder started it all, lies at Holy Cross Cemetery in Brooklyn, beneath an elaborate marble sculpture of The Pieta. His gravestone is inscribed, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord."



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