Genovese Family – One of the “Five Families”

Joseph Masseria

The Genovese crime family is one of the “Five Families” of New York and one of the most powerful organized crime families in the nation. Only the Gambino and Chicago Outfit are larger in terms of made men and associates.

The family was founded after Charles Lucky Luciano in the 1930’s but was renamed after Vito Genovese took over in 1957.  The Genovese are special that they have only had five members turn states evidence in their history. Their allegiance to Omerta has proven to keep them away from prosecution and maintain their strength in New York and surrounding areas. However, in years past the family was a bit of a laughing stock as they were led by Vincent “The Chin” Gigante who wandered the streets dressed in a robe in an effort to feign a mental handicap for the ever present FBI. The Chin died in 2005.

Early History

The Genovese family was established as the Morello gang around 1892 running out of the Bronx and East Harlem. They were originally called the 107th street mob established by Giuseppe Morello and Ignazio “the Wolf” Lupo. They were involved in extortion, kidnapping, and robbery.

As their enterprise grew, Morello was faced with territory conflicts with the immigrant gangs from Naples, Italy. The Camorra and the Morello gang initially worked together but after Morello and Lupo received lengthy prison sentences for extortion in 1909, the Camorra seized the opportunity and systematically began killing off the remaining Morello family gangsters, and taking over their rackets. This resulted in what’s known as the Mafia-Camorra War from 1914-1918. By the middle of 1918 many of the Camorra on the losing end of the war, were either killed or in prison thus ending the war. Although the Morello’s won the war, they received a devasting blow when boss Nicholas Morello was killed in 1916.

The Morello family tried to regain its foothold during prohibition, but by the early 1920’s the gang no longer existed. Giuseppe Morello and Lupo were released from prison and fled to Italy under threat from rival Salvatore D’Aquila.  That left the door open for Joseph Masseria boss of the Masseria family to assumed control of the remaining Morello members and their rackets. Masseria needed as much fire power as he could handle as his biggest rival, Salvatore Maranzano boss of the Castellammare del Golfo Sicilian organization in Brooklyn was looking for a fight.

By 1928, the war between Masseria and Maranzano had begun. More than 60 members from both sides were dead. It appeared there would be no end with both families having recruited more soldiers during the war, but on April 15th 1931, the war took a sudden turn when Masseria was murdered in a Coney Island restaurant having been set up by Lucky Luciano and his crew.

As it turned out, Luciano was upset with Masseria for some time. Having been neutral during the war, Luciano met secretly with Maranzano to plot Masseria’s assassination. Masseria’s death affectively ended the Castellamarese War leaving Maranzano in control of New York.

Maranzano didn’t waste any time in restructuring the Italian-American gangs of New York into five new families. With that change Maranzano appointed himself as the Boss of all Bosses. For his help, Luciano was appointed boss of the Morello/Masseria family. However, Luciano and other bosses privately objected to Maranzano’s role. Maranzano soon found out about the detractors and ordered a hit on Luciano. It wasn’t to be. Luciano had the wheels in motion to take control from Maranzano. On September 10, 1931, Jewish gangsters Meyer Lansky, and Tommy Lucchese on orders from Luciano murdered Maranzano in his office. With his death, Luciano became the most powerful gangster in New York.

Realizing the strife between the families, Luciano and his crew created a governing body for the five families. The commission consisted of one leader from each of the five families, the Chicago Outfit headed up by Al Capone, and the Magaddino crime family of Buffalo New York. Luciano and his crew effectively controlled the commission for many years but he succeeded in keeping the commission together. It still stands today, although it’s unclear who is represented by each family.

As head of the Morello/Masseria family, Luciano first appointed Vito Genovese as his underboss, or second in command, and Frank Costello as his Consigliere, or advisor. When they were in place he renamed the family to the Luciano family.

In 1936 Luciano was convicted of pandering and sentenced to 30 to 50 years in prison. He continued to control the family from prison but the day to day activities were handled by underboss Vito Genovese. His activities were short lived as he was indicted on murder charges in 1937 and fled prosecution to Italy. Advisor or Consigliere, Frank Costello, was soon appointed as acting boss by Luciano.

Luciano was released from prison in 1946 and immediately deported to Italy after the United States government struck a deal with him to help protect the ports on the east coast from German attack subs. Luciano – still in control of the docks along the east coast- allowed the military to make moves to secure the port, but the need never transpired as Germany surrendered shortly after. Luciano never set foot on U.S. soil again.

With Luciano and Genovese in Italy, Frank Costello was in complete control of the Luciano crime family. With his keen business sense, Costello managed to increase the Luciano reach to include control over much of the bookmaking, loan sharking, and racketeering activities throughout New York. He is also attributed with being one of the first families to have a presence in Las Vegas after approving Meyer Lansky and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel to expand the family business in Southern California to build the first modern casino resort in Las Vegas. When Siegel failed to open the resort on time, his mob investors allegedly sanctioned his murder.

After a 20 year run, Costello faced a formidable opponent in Vito Genovese who was extradited from Italy to New York and beat the 1936 murder charge. With nothing hanging over his head, Genovese was determined to take back control of the family he’d fled almost twenty years before. With help from Mangano crime family underboss Carlo Gambino, they hired Vincent ‘the chin’ Gigante to assassinate Costello. Gigante shot Costello in the head but Costello survived. To prevent retribution from Costello ally Albert Anastasia, Gambino gunmen stalked and killed Anastasia thereby opening the door for Carlo to become boss of the Mangano family. Costello had no support after Anastasia’s murder and retired surrendering the Luciano family to Genovese.

After taking control of what was now called the Genovese crime family, Vito Genovese organized a conference to legitimize his new position. He called in over 100 mobsters from around the country to Appalachian, New York, and a farm owned by Joseph Barbera’s family. Unfortunately for the gangsters, the local law enforcement was tipped to the meeting after a chance sighting of several expensive limousines driving in the country. They surrounded the farm and arrested many of the gangsters as they tried to run. Many of the arrested blamed Vito Genovese who evaded capture by running through the woods. Several of the high ranking mobsters on the Commission were upset at the exposure the Appalachian meeting gained in the public. Carlo Gambino, a one time supporter of Genovese used Appalachian to turn against him fearing he became too reckless. Gambino, Frank Costello, and Tommy Lucchese lured Genovese into a drug distribution scheme that eventually ended with Genovese being arrested, charged, convicted, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. In June 1962 the word Cosa Nostra became a household name when Genovese family soldier Joseph “Joe Cargo” Valachi agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors against the Genovese family. He testified in a public hearing about the day to day activities of the Cosa Nostra and revealed much of their secrets. The joke was on Valachi though because his testimony did not lead to any convictions.

After Genovese was sent to prison in 1959 leadership created a secret “Ruling Panel” that would lead the

Vito Genovese

family in his absence. The first panel included Tommy Eboli, Gerardo Catena, and Phillip Lombardo. They also appointed a “Front Boss” to act as the official boss of the family. When Genovese died in 1969, Phillip Lombardo was his successor and Tommy Eboli was the front boss. In an attempt to take over the Genovese family, Gambino boss Carlo Gambino loan Tommy Eboli millions of dollars on a drug scheme. By 1972 Eboli had failed to pay back the money so Gambino had him murdered.

With the front boss position open, Frank “Funzi” Tieri was chosen to be the new front boss, and a new ruling panel was put in place. This second panel consisted of Catena, Michele “Big Mike” Miranda, and Lombardo. In 1982, Tieri was convicted and sent to prison under the RICO act, and Lombardo the official boss of the family retired leaving the slot to Vincent “Chin” Gigante.

Gigante ran the family behind the shroud of the front boss for three years until a Genovese associate turned informer and identified Gigante as the real boss of the family. After the outing Gigante retired the position of front boss and formed a new position called the “street boss”. Gigante wanted to insulate himself from the FBI as must as possible. The street boss would run day to day operations with Gigante making all the decisions. Wise the way of the FBI Gigante knew his street boss would be found out one day, so instead of delivering his directions straight to the street boss, Gigante used messengers. As a result, Gigante only spoke directly with a few close associates including his two sons. All other business was completed using a messenger. He also ordered his entire family to never speak his name out loud. Anyone who was caught saying his name was to be killed on the spot. Instead, they would point to their chin or make a ‘C’ with their hands.

In 1985 with the murder of Gambino boss Paul Castellano, Gigante gained control of the commission and was the most powerful boss in New York. He would remain the most powerful until the FBI finally tried and convicted him to 12 years in prison in 1997. He died of heart disease while still serving his sentence in 2005.

Today, the Genovese family is considered to be one of the strongest in New York. They have approximately 250 made men and 14 active crews. Their associates could be in the thousands, and according to the FBI they have not had an official boss since Gigante. Instead, their caporegime run the day to day business with a few capos’s holding the most power in Manhattan and the Bronx.

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