“Willie” Moretti, birth name Guarino Moretti was born in Bari Puglia, Italy on February 24, 1894 and immigrated to the Unites States with his family in the early 1990s. The family settled in New Jersey where Moretti met brothers Frank and Eddie Costello where the three youth would eventually form a gang on the streets of New Jersey.
On January 12, 1913, at the age of 19, Moretti was convicted of robbery in New York City and sentenced to year in state prison. It was his first arrest and he was released after a few months due to his young age relatively minor crime for the time period. After his release Moretti continued working with the Costello brothers committing crimes such as robbery, extortion, theft, and burglary. It was known early on that Frank Costello was the brains and Moretti was the muscle, and the two worked well together.
By late 1920’s into the early 1930’s Moretti, who had continued his life of crime, had become a very powerful man in New Jersey working for the Genovese crime family of New York. He ran a successful gambling racket throughout New Jersey and upstate New York and had other Mafia notables such as Joe Adonis and Abner Zwillman working alongside him. His gang would eventually consist of at least 60 men.
In the mid-1930’s Moretti’s name came to light when he became friends with then an unknown singer named Frank Sinatra. Sinatra’s first wife Nancy was related to John Barbato, one of Moretti’s men. At the time Sinatra had a tough time booking gigs, so Moretti helped him book New Jersey clubs in return for some of his earnings. By 1941 Sinatra was known throughout the United States and was on the cusp of signing a lucrative contract with a national promoter. However, years earlier he had signed a contract with his band leader, Tommy Dorsey, who was reluctant to let him out. With help from Moretti shoving a pistol down Dorsey’s throat, the contract came to an end and Sinatra was free to sign a huge record deal with a national promoter.
Around the same time Sinatra was signing a national contract, Moretti became acquainted with up-and-coming comedians Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis who performed at several nightclubs he frequented. It’s been said that Martin, Lewis, Sinatra, and comedian Milton Berle all performed at the wedding reception of Moretti’s daughter.
As a popular mafioso in New Jersey, Moretti had no problem attracting women. However, he often visited prostitutes to avoid commitment and eventually contracted syphilis, a disease that attacks the brain. As Moretti became more ill, the other Mafia bosses, particularly New York became concerned that Moretti was losing his mind. It’s been said he bet on nonexistent horses at the track, told stories that often made no sense, and spoke about Cosa Nostra to civilians which is punishable by death.
In 1950 Moretti and other members of the Genovese crime family were called to testify in front of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Organized Crime. The committee convened to discuss allegations that the Mafia was behind much of the corruption that was running rabid through New Jersey and New York. When each of the Genovese members were called to testify each one of them refuse to testify and invoked the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides legal protection against self-incrimination. However, when Moretti made it to the stand he did just the opposite having spoke candidly telling jokes and playing it up for the camera. When he was asked how long he had been involved with the Mafia he replied, “what do you mean, like do I carry a membership card that says “Mafia” on it?” The statement and others like it amused the Senators however; the Genovese and other families of New York were not pleased. Moretti had spoke publicly about Omerta and violated the mafia code of silence.
Early the next year several Cosa Nostra commission members met to discuss the ailing Moretti. Members Vito Genovese and Albert Anastasia wanted Moretti killed for speaking about the mob. As they had said for years, Moretti was becoming a danger to them with his loose tongue. Costello and Adonis who attended the meeting were opposed to killing Moretti, however the more powerful Genovese and Anastasia prevailed and a murder contract was issued.
On October 4, 1951 Moretti and four other men met for lunch at Joe’s Elbow Room Restaurant in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. Moretti and the men were the only patrons in the restaurant that afternoon. According to reports from employees of the restaurant when the wait staff was in the kitchen gunfire erupted in the dining area. When they ventured out to look, they found Moretti dead of bullet wounds to his face and head. The other men in attendance, now suspected as being the gunmen, were gone.
An interesting fact about the Moretti murder: Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were scheduled to attend lunch that day, however Lewis had contracted the mumps and Martin had forgotten about it. Later that night while Martin was attempting to contact Moretti to apologize, he learned of his death from the television news.