Feature Articles

November 2001

The Raid At Apalachin

By John William Tuohy

     After Vito Genovese, in a surprise move, took over the Luciano organization from Frank Costello, he was in almost complete control of half of New York's underworld, and all that Genovese needed was official recognition by the national commission as head of his family, and for Carlo Gambino as head of the Anatassi family.

     A meeting of the national commission had already been called before the Anatassi murder, the bosses were concerned about everything that was happening in New York and they wanted some answers.

     The meeting was scheduled to take place in Apalachin, a small village in upper New York state near Binghamton in Broome County some two hundred miles northwest of Manhattan. The national syndicate had decided to meet there, at the home of the hamlet's leading part time resident, an otherwise shadowy figure named Joseph Barbara.

     The little that Police intelligence knew about him, officially anyway, was that he had connections in narcotics and had been in the bootlegging rackets as well and that he had been picked up in his youth on several murder investigations but always released. His only conviction came in 1944 for possessing 300,000 pounds of illegal sugar.

     Police also knew that Barbara was the President of the Canada Dry bottling company out of Endicott, New York, that he was born in Castellammare, Sicily, in 1905 and emigrated to the United States in 1921 and became a citizen in 1927. What they didn't know was that he was a made member of the Mafia who had entered the labor and narcotics rackets shortly after he entered the United States and was involved in three murders in New York in 1932 and 1933, but he was never charged.

     It was a special honor for Barbara to be chosen to host the meeting. Several days before the meeting, Barbara had ordered 207 pounds of steak, 20 pounds of veal cutlets and 15 pounds of lunch meats from the Armour and Company down in Binghamton, a tiny butcher's shop that was overwhelmed by the order. More than a hundred rooms had been reserved in the local hotel in Barbara's name.

     Before this, virtually all of the national commission meetings were held in Akron, Ohio under the protection of Don Frank Milano but since the issues at hand concerned mostly the New York families it was decided to hold the conclave meeting in the tiny upstate New York hamlet of Apalachin.

     The year before Apalachin, the commission had met in Barbara's home to officially bring Philadelphia's bosses Joe Zerilla and Angelo Bruno onto the commission. That meeting, at least as large, had gone off without a problem. It was a decision they would live to regret.

     The Dons came from as far away as Cuba, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Tucson, Kansas City and Italy.

     From New York and New Jersey came Joe Adonis, Albert Anastasia, Joe Bonanno, Frank Costello, Tommy Lucchese, Joe Profaci, Giuseppe Magiocco, Willie Moretti, Augie Pisano, and Mike Miranda.

     Buffalo was represented by Steve Magaddino, Chicago sent Tony Accardo, Charlie and Rocco Fischetti.

     Carlos Marcello came in from New Orleans followed by Santo Trafficante from Florida, Meyer Lansky, of course was there, so was Dandy Phil Kastel who was his partner in New Orleans but were Jewish and had no voting power.

     From Chicago came Tony Accardo and his street boss Sam Giancana. Gabriel Mannarino came in from Pennsylvania, Frank DiSimone of Los Angeles, James Civello of Dallas, James Colletti of Colorado, Frankie Zito out of Southern Illinois, Johnny Scalish from Cleveland, Joey Ida from Philadelphia.

     Another point to go over was to draw up a hit list of soldiers who had been disloyal and whether or not to knock off several federal narcotics officers who were making life uncomfortable for everyone. Most of the men there were older and were certain that drugs would mean the undoing of their criminal empires and were prepared to vote to outlaw it and to kill anyone of their men who dabbled in it.

     A primary concern for the Dons was the meaning of the 1956 narcotics law and how it would affect the syndicate and how the syndicate should deal with it.

     It was the bosses' fears that the syndicate's soldiers had become so bored by the endless parade of federal probe committees that it didn't pay attention when the Senate Subcommittee on improvements in the federal criminal code wrote the Narcotics Control act of 1956. This act gave a mandatory sentence of five years for the first drug offense and ten for the second offense. For people like Accardo, this meant that fixing a judge for a lighter sentence was no longer going to happen because the judge was now bound by law to hand down five or ten year sentences.

     The bill concerned the bosses because, despite the mob's long held official dictum forbidding its soliders to deal in narcotics on a street level, most of the bosses had deep financial interest in the massive international sale of narcotics as did any other Mafia don.

     The bosses' aversion to having their men enter the dope trade was purely business. Narcotic convictions were stiff and to avoid long sentences it wasn't unusual for wise guys to cut deals with prosecutors, a lower sentence for turning over a bigger fish, and this new but widely unnoticed federal law made narcotic street level sales even more dangerous than before.

     But that was street sales. The world international narcotics financing was something altogether different. The bosses, flush with cash from their enormous gambling and union racketeering empires, needed to invest in the international drugs trade, not only for its enormous profits, but because it would give them a medium of control over the flow of the drugs into their city. If they didn't have that control, some other crime family would and then it would only be a question of time before they controlled the streets.

     In the early days dope smuggling had been the sole province of New Yorkers Legs Diamond, the Newman Brothers and Dutch Schultz who formed an alliance with the Eliopoulos Brothers, the drug barons of Europe.

     Then in 1930 Louis "Lepke" Buchalter declared that he was going into the business and by the mid 30's Lepke more or less controlled the United States distribution of narcotics.

     Lepke's secret to success was bringing in two noted underworld financiers, Jacob Lvovsky and Jasha Katzenberg to help him open transportation inroads for heroin from Tientsin China. Both Lepke and his chief lieutenant Emanuel "Mendy" Weiss were eventually arrested and executed at Sing on murder charges.

     They had been turned in by Lucky Luciano and his Sicilian based Mafia backers who then took over Lepke's routes business. Luciano tossed the Chinese Tongs out of the business and cornered the market and increased the flow of dope into the United States. After Luciano was tossed out of the country he continued on in the business from Italy.

     Demand for narcotics was high in the 1930's all over America but decreased during the Second World War when the import channels were dried up, driving up the cost of narcotics but this was only seen as an opportunity by the mob.

     By 1943, the syndicate had taken narcotics smuggling away from the less well organized, older criminals who had been running it and kept it for themselves. With its deep contacts in Europe, Asia and South America, the mob was able to circumvent wartime problems while keeping the price up.

     At first all of the crime families were agreed to a "no-narcotics" rule and for a while most of them adhered to the agreement. They agreed to it because dope was widely considered to be, inside the syndicate and out, "dirty money" and any crime family that entered into the business risked losing their political and police support.

     But dirty money or not, there was just too much profit for the lowlifes to stay out of it. Carlos Trafficante in western Florida and Santos John Priziola in Detroit openly traded in dope and made fortunes from it in the fifties and sixties. By October of 1957 the last hold outs against selling dope, on a street level, were Frank Costello of Manhattan and Tony Accardo of Chicago.

     However, up until 1956, when Meyer Lansky had figured out a way to regulate and distribute the flow of drugs into Cuba, the narcotics trade had more or less been a haphazard business with assurance of a regular delivery system out of Asia and Europe. Lansky and Trafficante had changed all of that.

     And that was one of the major points of the meeting, the skyrocketing prices charged to Mafia and syndicate dope distributors in the United States by wholesalers operating out of Sicily, Cuba and other points in South America.

     Among those signaled out for particular attention were Meyer Lansky and his partner Santo Sorge.

     There are two schools of thought on how the Police came to raid, or actually break up, the meeting at Apalachin. One is that New York Mafia Don Carlo Gambino, who was conspicuously absent from the meeting, called the police and tipped them off in his own effort to take over the underworld, and the other is that Meyer Lansky, fearful that the Mafia bosses might vote to punish him, that is, kill him, for raising the price of dope, contacted his friends within the federal government and told them about the meeting.

     One way or the other, New York State Police Trooper Edgar Crosswell, his partner and two agents from the Treasury Department's Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms tax unit converged on the road above Barbara's home and waited.

     Since they had no warrant, or even probable cause, a raid on the house, aside from being relatively dangerous, was unwarranted, so they decided to set up a road block on Route 17 and McFall road, a good vantage point where they could see the men leave from the front door of the house at 1:20 P.M. Then Crosswell, his partner and the two Treasury agents drove to the edge of Barbara's home and ten cars in the lot and twenty-five more parked near a bar to the rear of the main house and decided to take down license plate numbers when they heard Mrs Barbara shout inside the house "There's the state troopers!"

     One of the first to charge out of the house in a panic was tiny Vito Genovese, who had also been the first to arrive. Genovese's car was driven by Russell Bufalino of Pennsylvania who had a record for receiving stolen property, and was later suspected of killing Jimmy Hoffa. In the back seat was Vito Genovese.

     "What are you doing in this area?" Crosswell asked the Don.

     "I don't think I have to answer that question, do I?"

     "No, you don't," Crosswell replied. He turned to Bufalino, "and you?"

     "I'm visiting a sick friend."

     "What's his name?"

     Bufalino went blank for a second. "I forget."

     Don Vito ordered Bufalino to drive off, as was his right.

     Right behind the fearless Don Vito was Joe Profaci of Brooklyn, then Joe Bonanno of Manhattan, and Gerado Catena of New Jersey Mafia.

     By 2:30 twenty-five persons had been stopped or counted as having been inside the house. In all, the cops figured, correctly, that fifty-nine persons had been inside the house.

     All of those held said they had come to pay their respects to Barbara who had been sick. It was a story they stuck to until their convictions were overturned by the United States Court of Appeals.

     "Why the hell they just didn't sublet the 17th precinct in Manhattan for the day, is beyond me, that way that could have saved the travel," a disgusted Frank Costello said later.

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