Feature Articles

January 2002

New York Stories

Part I

By John William Tuohy

     No one impressed Frank Costello as much as Costello impressed himself. He regaled his own greatness and delighted in his brilliance.

     And now he was the Boss. The ultimate Boss. When Luciano went to prison in 1936 on a trumped up prostitution charge, Costello took over Luciano's enormous crime family with its five hundred soldiers and thirty caporegimes.

     Several years before, his underboss, Vito Genovese, fearing arrest in connection with the murder of a gangster named Ferdinand Boccia, received Luciano's approval to flee to Italy. As a result, everyone in the organization moved up a notch, expanded their holdings and got richer than they ever dreamed they could be.

     While other men, wiser men, would have understood that the Fools of Chance were at work, Costello saw his accession to power as the handwork of God.

     Costello loved the role of Emperor.

     He called his Capos to his suite at the Plaza and sent them in every direction across New York to conquer the city in his name. He gave the principality of Greenwich Village to his favorite Capo, Tony Bender. To "Trigger Mike" Coppola, he doled out Harlem, the old Dutch Schultz kingdom. Coppola was insane and he grew more insane as the years went by. In 1948, his wife Doris was indicted for perjury. Before she could testify, Doris entered the hospital on March 17, 1948, and gave birth to a baby daughter. The next day, she died suddenly. Coppola had the body cremated.

     Costello gave Joe Adonis and Willie Moretti New Jersey; Anthony Carfano got the Bronx; and Michelle Miranada was given the entire East Side.

     As a result of Costello's imperial expansionism, money poured in, tens of millions of dollars that allowed Emperor Frank to buy more soldiers, and with more muscle than any other family in the country, he controlled the unions that controlled the piers and docks of New York and New Jersey, in effect making Costello the governor over the movement of virtually all freight in and out of the Americas.

     His family owned the garment industry, the construction business, trash collection, catering industry and restaurants, bars, night clubs and theaters. They placed a tax on almost everything that was made, sold, or traded anywhere in Manhattan, the Bronx, Harlem or New Jersey. They raked in hundreds of millions of dollars from numbers, extortion, loan sharking, hijacking and the control of prostitution and the movement of narcotics.

     And unlike the psychotic Luciano or that idiot Capone, during Costello's rule, there was relative peace, a feat that earned him the title of the "The Prime Minister of the underworld."

     On June 11, 1946, Vito Genovese, officially the Underboss to Frank Costello, came back to America, handcuffed to a federal agent. From that humble start, the history of organized crime in America would be changed forever.

     Vito Genovese came to America from Naples in 1912, at the age of sixteen, with his family. They settled in Queens, both parents worked hard and prospered into the middle class. The possibilities were endless.

     But Genovese had no intentions of leading the straight life. His first arrest came in 1917, for carrying a gun. That got him 60 days in jail. During the years of Prohibition, he was arrested twice, but was released each time for lack of evidence when the witnesses failed to appear in court. By 1926, Vito was a full- fledged gangster and running partner with the ultimate bad boy, Lucky Luciano. They grew close, mostly because Genovese would kill on Luciano's orders without question. However, Luciano let it be known to one and all, that he never trusted Genovese because, like Luciano, he was cunning, sly and devious. He was also stone cold. Joseph Valachi, the mob's informant, said: "If you went to him and told him about some guy doing wrong he would have the guy killed, and then he would have you killed for telling on the guy."

     During the early 1930s, Genovese took over New York's massive Italian lottery, and grew rich from it, using his wealth to buy into gay bars in the Greenwich Village area, which struck police as an oddchoice of investments until 1954 when they learned from a cashier at one of the clubs that Genovese's wife, Anna Petillo Vernotico, who was also his distant cousin, was a regular at these clubs and for many years, was involved in a lesbian relationship which Genovese knew of, and approved. It had always been an oddball union anyway. Genovese had married Anna a year after the death of his first wife in 1931. When he met her, Anna was locked in a loveless marriage and couldn't get a divorce. On March 16, 1932, Genovese had her husband murdered and twelve days later they were married.

     In 1937, Vito Genovese, under suspicion of murder of a mob soldier named Ferdinand "The Shadow" Boccia, fled the US, taking a suitcase containing $750,000. The Boccia murder was a study in Genovese true nature. Boccia had introduced Genovese to a rich Italian merchant whom Genovese and others conned out of a small fortune in a rigged card game. Then they sold him a machine that they said would print money. In all, they had rooked the man of some $150,000. Boccia demanded $35,000 as his share for introducing Genovese to the merchant, and rather than pay, Genovese, already a millionaire, decided to have Boccia killed.

     Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey got the case and was closing in fast on Genovese when he fled to Naples and opened a narcotics export business.

     He lived and prospered there for almost nine years, and when the Allies invaded Italy in 1944, Genovese helped the cause as a translator and facilitator while running the enormous black market. But on August 22, 1944, Military Police cracked down on the ring and arrested Genovese. An investigation into Genovese's background by Agent Orange C. Dickey of the Criminal Investigation Division of the US Army, discovered that Genovese was a major criminal and wanted on murder charges back in New York. The problem was, nobody in the Army or the federal government was interested.

     After months of frustration, Dickey finally arranged to ship Genovese back to New York to face trial and that's when the pressure began. Dickey, who made less then $210 per month, turned down a bribe of $250,000 to let Genovese go. When that didn't work, pressure was brought down from high above to drop the case but Dicky refused. Genovese returned to New York in 1945, handcuffed to Agent Orange, and was immediately handed over to Brooklyn DA. But, by that time, the case was dropped because the state's witness, a hood named Pete LaTempa, was dead, killed while in protective custody at the Raymond Street jail in Manhattan. Someone learned that LaTempa suffered from stomach ulcers, and on January 14, 1945, he was supplied with his usual dose of painkiller medicine before going to sleep. The next morning he was found dead. A New York toxicologist analyzed his internal organs and reported that he had been given enough poison "to kill eight horses."

     With the LaTempa problem behind him, by the fall of 1951, Vito Genovese was ready to begin his assault on Frank Costello and realize his dream of becoming the capo di tutti capi, the boss of all bosses. But a direct assault on Costello would be suicidal. It was better to begin his campaign by eliminating one of Frank Costello's closest friends and allies and provoking Costello into a war for control of the family. He would start by having Willie Moretti murdered. Willie Moretti, and his brother Solly went back to the old days with Costello.

     Morretti kept a low profile, mostly staying up north in Newark, where he ran a small, but effective gang of hoods out of Duke's Restaurant in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, a town they owned because they were paying the local police chief five times his annual income from the city.

     Genovese's choice in picking Morretti as the first to go, was perfect. Morretti and Frank Costello were close. Very, very close. Costello had been Willie's best man at his wedding and was godfather to one of his children. Costello also shared in the two million dollar gambling business Willie had built up, making him rich beyond his dreams and a loyal, and powerful, defender of the Costello regime.

     Aside from Morretti, Costello could count on the other Capos: Trigger Mike Copolla, Augie Carfano, Dominick DeQuatro, Jimmy Angelina, Tommy Greco, Richie Boiardi and Jimmy Blue Eyes Alo and the financial and management genius of Meyer Lansky.

     For his part, Genovese could count on only three capos to support him a war: Jerry Catena, Mike Miranda, and Tony Bender. Bender and Genovese were close. They married their wives in a joint ceremony in 1932, with Genovese acting as Bender's best man and vice versa. Yet, years later, while Genovese was in Atlanta Penitentiary, he told his cellmate Joe Valachi that Tony had "disappeared," that is, was murdered on Genovese's orders because Bender was sick and would never make his prison sentence and rather than risk his turning informant, Don Vito had him killed.

     What Genovese needed to switch the Capos over to his sidewould be something to show that Costello wasn't acting in the best interest of the family, and Willie Morretti gave him the opening he needed to sow the seeds of doubt, and, as his luck should have it, the Kefauver committee arrived just in time to serve his needs.

(To be continued)

Mr. Tuohy can be reached by writing to

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