The youngest of the “Five Families” and the creation of Joseph Profaci in 1928 is the Colombo crime family. Profaci was one of the longest serving mafia bosses in history and ruled virtually unchallenged from 1928 until the late 1950’s. Beginning in 1959 the Colombo family started an internal strife that lasted through three wars until 1983. The first war started in the late 1950’s when Mafioso Joe Gallo, pushed back against Profaci challenging his leadership. This first of three wars lasted until Gallo was imprisoned and Profaci died of cancer. Following Profaci’s death, Joseph Colombo became the new boss.
In 1971 Joe Gallo was released from prison and wasted little time vying for the top spot after the shooting of Colombo. Gallo would face a backlash after the shooting when Colombo supporters lead by Carmine Persico fought back against Gallo and his men. The second war would last four years before Gallo was finally pushed out being exiled to the Genovese family in 1975. After the win, Carmine Persico became the new boss of the Colombo family keeping the families name sake for his mentor. Persico would lead two decades of peace with the family.
In 1991, the third Colombo family war started when acting boss Victor Orena tried to take the family away from the imprisoned Persico. The made men and associates split with some sticking by Persico, and others taking the side of Orena. The war lasted two bloody years with 12 members dead, and Orena imprisoned leaving persico the winner. Persico continues to lead the family as boss in prison today, although there have been several “acting bosses”; Persico still makes the final decisions. Most observers believe as a result of the internal wars the Colombo crime family is the weakest of the five families today.
Joe Profaci arrived in New York City from Italy in September 1921 as an olive oil importer. He ran his own small gang
that operated mainly in Brooklyn but also spent a considerable amount of time importing olive oil utilizing his contacts from Sicily. As his business grew, he became a recognized name in Brooklyn, and in October 1928 after
the murder of Salvatore D’Aquila, a vacuum emerged for D’Aquilla’s territory. To prevent a war representative’s of the five most dominant gangs in Brooklyn were called to a meeting in Ohio to divide the territory. One of the five men was Profaci who came away from the meeting with his own family and a significant chunk of territory.
Not long after the D’Aquilla assassination, Joe Masseria proclaimed himself the boss of all bosses. Masseria had competition in the form of Salvatore Maranzano. Their push for the top spot started the Castellammarese War. Profaci kept neutral through the war but secretly sided with Masseria. The war ended when Lucky Luciano and his gang assassinated Masseria on April 15, 1931, and Maranzano on September 10, 1931. With both men gone, Luciano became the most powerful boss in the United States and created The Commission. With the creation of a commission, there would be five independent families in New York and twenty one additional families across the United States each with one seat at the head table.
Joseph Profaci may have been the olive oil and tomato paste king of American, but he was hardly popular with some of the made men in the family. His requests for tribute infuriated some of soldiers and in the late 1950’s, twenty-some years after he became boss, Profaci had his first real test of power. Frank “Frankie Shots” Abbatemarco who ran an illegal policy game began refusing to pay Profaci the monthly tribute he asked for. By the end of 1959 Abbatemarco owed Profaci more than $50,000. Profaci couldn’t allow this to continue so he asked Joe Gallo to murder Abbatemarco. In exchange for the hit, Profaci would hand over the policy racket to Gallo. What Profaci didn’t know was Gallo had been conspiring along with Abbatemarco to take down Profaci.
In November 1959 Abbatemarco was shot and killed by two men. After a breakdown of communication, Profaci recalled the offer to hand over Abbatemarco’s racket to Gallo and thus started the first Colombo family war.
On one side, Profaci and his loyalists, and on the other is the Gallo brothers and the Garfield Boys led by Carmine Persico. After several murders and attempted murders, in 1961 Joe Gallo was sentenced to a long prison sentence and shortly after, Profaci died of cancer. This left Carmine Persico the last man standing who tried to position himself to take control of the Profaci family despite the raging war. It wasn’t mean to be. Within two years Persico escaped two assassination attempts; one car bomb in 1963, and a shooting on May 19, 1963.
In 1963 Bonanno boss Joseph Bonanno and Joseph Magliocco the self proclaimed boss of the Profaci family hatched a plot to take down Carlo Gambino, Tommy Lucchese, Stefano Magaddino of Buffalo, and Frank DeSimone, of Los Angeles. With the four men out of the way, Bonanno, and Magliocco could take over the commission. They gave the contract to Profaci family caporegime Joseph Colombo. Realizing he was in a bad position, Colombo reported the contract to The Commission. Both Bonanno and Magliocco had a choice. Retire, or be killed. Both men retired and The Commission handed the Profaci family over to Joseph Colombo and renamed it the Colombo family. Within a short time, Colombo ended the war.
In 1971 Joe Gallo was released from prison. After losing the first Profaci war to Carmine Profaci, Gallo did not intend on losing another. The Commission warned Gallo that a peace treaty was put in place to stop the first war, but Gallo insisted it did not apply to him because he was in prison. On July 28, 1971, Colombo, who started the Italian-American Civil Rights League, was preparing to speak in front of a large crowd when an African American man jumped from the crowd and shot Colombo three times in the back of the head. Colombo gunmen then open fired on the assassin killing him instantly. Colombo survived the attack but was paralyzed and died seven years later. The Colombo family blamed Joe Gallo for the hit, but it was never proven. Nonetheless, the attack set off the second Colombo war that would last from 1971-1975.
As retribution for the Colombo shooting, Joseph Yacovelli, the new acting boss ordered a hit on Joe Gallo. On April 7, 1972 four gunmen walked into Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy and shot Joe Gallo killing him in front of his family.
His murder touched off another attempted killing when Albert Gallo, one of two Gallo brothers’s sent men to a restaurant in Manhattan where Yacovelli and two other men were dining. The assassins didn’t recognize Yacovelli and shot four innocent diners instead, killing two of them. With an attempt on his life, Yacovelli left New York leaving the acting boss spot open to Carmine Persico.The war continued for several more years until The Commission stepped in 1975 and removed Albert Gallo and his followers from the Colombo family and placed them into the Genovese family. With that move, the second was over.
The Colombo family had a period of calm after the second war. Several acting bosses held the top spot through the seventies and eighties. Carmine Persico the boss of the family was in prison most of that time. He appointed acting bosses while he was gone and then took the family back over as he was released. In 1986 Persico and another man were sentenced on RICO charges and sentenced to 100 years in prison. Persico named Victor Orena as the new acting boss of the Colombo family to take his place.
In 1990 Orena petitioned Gambino Boss John Gotti and the rest of The Commission to declare him the official boss of the Colombo family. After all, Persico would die in prison. The Commission refused his request to try and stave off another Colombo war. It wouldn’t work. Persico heard about Orena’s petition and sent gunmen to Orena house to kill him. He escaped before they arrived. The third Colombo war had begun.
The Colombo war raged on for years. Over 80 associates and made members were sent to prison and
twelve people were killed including three civilians. As the war continued The Commission refused to let anyone from the Colombo family sit at the table. They considered dissolving the family and spreading their rackets to the other families too. In 2002 with help from Bonanno family boss Joseph Massino, the Commission allowed the Colombo’s to rejoin them and the war ended. Carmine Persico managed to keep the top spot. Over the next several years he appointed men to acting boss. Alphonse “Little Allie Boy” Persico son of Carmine Persico was the last person to be appointed acting boss. He is currently serving a life sentence.