By Scott M. Deitche
The world of Mafia drug traffickers has brought many colorful characters into the theater of organized crime. From Carmine Galante to the Cravero gang in South Florida, the mob has always had a hand in narcotics trafficking, no matter what they said in "The Godfather".
One of the early players in the Mafia's heroin trade was a short, heavy set gangster named Joseph LoPiccolo. LoPiccolo was an intricate part of numerous heroin rings from the fifties to the seventies, and he worked with some of the top international drug dealers. He also spent a good deal of time behind bars.
Joseph Paul LoPiccolo was born on April 28 1918, in Chicago. He was the son of Felipo and Margherita LoPiccolo. He had two brothers, Anthony and Frank, and two sisters, Loretta and Carmella .
LoPiccolo moved to New York City, where he fell in with the Gambino crime family, and became a made member (he was identified in 1963 as a soldier). LoPiccolo dabbled in gambling, loansharking, and the vending machine business, but his forte was heroin. In the 1950's Joseph cultivated an impressive array of associates. They included: Vincent Todaro, a top NY heroin dealer; Joseph DiPalermo, an associate of Carmine Galante and the Cotroni family from Montreal; Angelo Locaino, an associate of Todaro and a top heroin importer; and Santo Trafficante Jr., who became boss in Tampa after his father's death on August 11, 1954.
In January of 1958, LoPiccolo, Todaro, and over a dozen others were arrested for narcotics violation stemming from the seizure of 37 pounds of heroin, and 55 pounds of opium. Investigators found a notebook of Joseph's, detailing some interesting financial activity on his part. It was found that LoPiccolo and Vincent Todaro financed flights for Santo Trafficante Jr. from Havana to New York City. At that time Trafficante was managing hotels in Havana, and reputedly dabbling in the narcotics trade with Italian, Corsican, Canadian, and Cuban traffickers.
There was also some evidence in LoPiccolo's notebook indicating that Santo invested in a narcotics shipment being smuggled into the US through France. The evidence was hardly enough to stand up in court, but gave law enforcement their first peek into the activities of Trafficante, in regards to the drug trade.
On December 5, 1958 LoPiccolo was sentenced to twenty years in prison for narcotics violations. He was sent to Leavenworth. His associates received about the same, and the LoPiccolo drug ring was smashed for the time being.
After being released from prison, LoPiccolo went back into the game, starting from where he left off. But things didn't pan out as well the second time around. LoPiccolo was found on May 21, 1978, in a cemetery on Staten Island, propped up between two headstones. He had a rag stuffed in his mouth, and was stabbed over 50 times. Some reasons for his death include; a dispute with Carmine Galante, a dispute with Trafficante, and rumors that LoPiccolo was an informer. Whatever the reason, his days as a narcotics man were over, but there were many in the Gambino family, and the Mafia in general, who would take his place.
* Thanks to posters on the forum for some of the information on LoPiccolo's murder
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