War-Ridden History of Violent Colombo Crime Family

July 2018: Robert Donofrio is the current boss of the  Colombo family, we hear ...

The Colombo’s are the youngest of the Five Families.

Formerly known as the Profaci crime family, for its original boss, it only became the Colombo family in the 1960s when family member Joseph Colombo went to the Commission to spill the beans on plans made by Profaci's short-term sucessor in cahoots with Joseph Bonanno of the Bonanno crime family.

Carmine Persico was named "The Snake" by the Gallo brothers.

Boss Profaci was involved in the crime family's first war, against the upstart Gallo brothers who felt the upper-echelon bosses were taking more than their fair share from the soldiers.

The second family war followed Crazy Joe's release from prison. It's believed, though far from proven, that the Gallo brother ordered the shooting of boss Colombo at one of his public rallies for the Italian-American League in 1971. He went into a coma and died years later.

In one of the more bizarre stories in American Cosa Nostra history, Joe Colombo, positioning himself as an Italian businessman unfairly targeted by the Feds for harassment, had begun a sort-of civil rights movement of his own during this country's general 1970s-era social upheaval.

Colombo's supporters, led by Carmine Persico, won the war when Crazy Joe Gallo was whacked in a Little Italy restaurant in 1972. (It's widely believed that, working quietly behind the scenes as was his modus operandi, Carlo Gambino had ordered the Colombo hit due to the heat that resulted from a very pissed-off FBI.

Crazy Joe

After two decades of peace the third and bloodiest war erupted in 1991 when Vic Orena decided he had a right to the top position. Orena and his confederates went to war with imprisoned boss Persico's supporters. In 1993 with 12 dead (two of which were innocent civilians) and Orena imprisoned for life, the war reached its end. Although out-manned and outgunned, the Persico faction won.

Since then, the family, along with the other families, has been hit repeatedly by prosecutions, informants and convictions -- but in the Colombos case, many were locked up due to war-related crimes. In fact, the arrests made as part of the big Mafia bust on January 20, 2011, left the family with less than half the number of made members it had only five years earlier, making it the smallest of the crime families. It was estimated that the Colombos had as few as 40 to 50 full-fledged members on the street as of January 2011 (when this story was first published).

"They were probably smaller than the DeCavalcante clan," a source said.

In 2012, it was learned that former consigliere Thomas Farese, arrested in Florida on money laundering charges, had been named street boss in 2011 by street boss Andrew "Mush" Russo, when "Mush" was arrested, according to a complaint filed in Brooklyn Federal Court.

Farese, 69, and mob associate Pat Truglia were both nabbed at the time, facing similar charges that also included loansharking.

Former capo Reynold Maragni taped the two the previous November. He was able to do so under the cover that the feds had approved his need to travel to the Sunshine State to visit doctors while he also was under federal indictment in New York.

Farese and Truglia were ordered held without bail pending their extradition to Brooklyn.

Maragni also made secret recordings in New York City as part of his efforts to help the feds nail those behind the 1999 hit on then-Colombo underboss William “Wild Bill” Cutolo. Wearing a wire outside Macy’s flagship Manhattan story, Maragni asked Colombo soldier Vincent Manzo, “Was [Thomas "Tommy Shots" Gioeli] there or not there?”

“Tommy was there,” Manzo replied.

Previously, Persico named Ralph DeLeo to run the family, according to law enforcement sources. He did so while based in Massachusetts, where DeLeo lived.

Born in Arkansas in 1943 (little is known of his pre-Cosa Nostra life), Ralph F. DeLeo was a tough, prison-hardened member of the family.

In 1977 he was sentenced to 25 to 40 years in Walpole, Mass., state prison for kidnapping and armed robbery. He escaped shortly after his incarceration but was captured and again convicted, this time for the murder of an Ohio doctor while a fugitive. For that crime he earned a 15 years to life sentence.

In the early 1990s, serving time in a federal prison he met Colombo acting boss Alphonse Persico. The two entered into a friendship that led to DeLeo being inducted into the family in 1997, when he was finally released.

He moved to Sommerville, Massachusetts in the early 2000s and became a capo. DeLeo's main businesses were drug trafficking, extortion, loansharking and racketeering. He based these operations in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Arkansas and Florida.

In 2008 Alphonse Persico named DeLeo street boss, replacing Thomas Gioeli who had been indicted on robbery, extortion and murder charges.

On December 17, 2009, the FBI charged DeLeo and Colombo family members with drug trafficking, racketeering, extortion and loansharking in all those various states.

Andrew Russo ascended to the top, holding the street boss title following DeLeo's arrest.

On November 21, 2012 DeLeo plead guilty and was sentenced to 19 years.

It turns out that three Colombo turncoats helped put away Gioeli and many other of the family's high-profile bosses.

One of the trio was Thomas McLaughlin, who flipped shortly after departing prison in 2008 after serving 14 years for drug dealing. He was facing a murder charge he'd committed 17 years prior with his uncle, "Tommy Shots." (Capo Dino "Big Dino" Calabro flipped and implicated him in the Frank "Chestnut" Marasa murder. In front of his Bensonhurst, Brooklyn home, he was shot to death on June 12, 1991.)

McLaughlin taped Colombo mobsters, agreed to testify in court against his uncle and also was able to instigate his brother-in-law, Peter Tagliavia, to flip. He too taped numerous Colombo wiseguys and associates -- incriminating them in a range of crime, including gambling, loansharking extortion, bribery, home invasions, assaults and murder.

Tagliavia was released from prison in 2000 and was relocated from his home in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn.

The two informants managed to nab two top-level gangsters and an associate in one conversation.

Anthony "Big Anthony" Russo and Joseph Savarese (plus associate Scott Fappiano) discussed a planned home invasion involving bulletproof vests and handguns.

In another conversation, McLaughlin and Big Anthony talked about mob war shootouts during car chases that each had lived to laugh about.

The defendants later rounded up included 15 made men, including four capos and the family administration--"Andy Mush" Russo, acting underboss Benjamin "The Claw" Castellazzo and consigliere Richard Fusco, all were in their 70s at the time.

During his time undercover, McLaughlin supposedly lost his self control. At the Bay Ridge nightclub, the Capri, McLaughlin grew angry at the way a valet driver for the club was treating customers At 4:20 am on an early July morning, McLaughlin and the valet began arguing. It escalated into a fistfight, with McLaughlin punching the valet driver in the head. Police were summoned. He was then arrested. 

Andrew "Mush" Russo, former Colombo street boss.

McLaughlin, under supervised release until 2013, was ordered to attend anger management classes.

Frankie "Blue Eyes" Sparaco, was the third member of the team and is credited with catching Andrew Russo expressing violent mob sentiment.

"I don't hesitate. I've never hesitated' to hurt an individual who stepped out of line," the gangster gruffly said.

In another recording, Russo "admonish[ed]" Anthony Russo for participating in a sitdown with the Gambino family. The topic had been the stabbing of a Colombo associate.

The Colombos should have "got even" with the Gambinos first, then they could have worked on settling the dispute.

The Colombos can still draw on veteran mafiosi like longtime boss Carmine Persico, who continues to call the shots from jail -- but everyone else is dead or in prison.

"There's nobody left," said a veteran investigator. "The old-timers are too old and too tired. There are still big moneymakers who bring in tons of cash, but they're not combatants. They are not involved in homicides. To run things, you need somebody who has two sides to him."

If this is, in fact, a requiem for the Colombos, they leave behind a brutal legacy, filled with the most colorful characters in gangland lore, a legendary band that inspired fictional depictions ranging from "On the Waterfront" to "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight."

Among its notable goodfellas were Joseph "Crazy Joe" Gallo, who terrorized foes with a mountain lion he kept in his Red Hook basement; William "Wild Bill" Cutolo, a stone-cold hit man who donned a Santa outfit each Christmas and bounced sick kids on his knee; and Gregory "Grim Reaper" Scarpa, of whom Brooklyn prosecutor Michael Vecchione said, "There's nobody like him in the history of the mob."

Scarpa, a violent thug who rose to the rank of capo, had a special relationship with the FBI, which enlisted his help to solve the "Mississippi Burning" murders of two civil-rights workers in 1964 -- and allegedly looked the other way while he committed crimes. In exchange, he secretly served as informant for 35 years.

Ironically, the Colombo crime family was born as a legitimate business.

THE Colombos, the last Cosa Nostra family to be formally organized when they came together in 1928, were started not by a Colombo but rather by import entrepreneur Giuseppe "Joe" Profaci, a Sicilian-born Brooklynite whose company Carmela Mia was once the largest distributor of olive oil and tomato sauce in the United States. His nickname was "The Olive Oil King."

But he was also known for less savory contributions: gambling, extortion, hijacking, prostitution, protection rackets and a new specialty, squeezing labor unions, a reliable and ongoing source of income from the time Profaci became a charter member of the mob's ruling commission in 1931.

Profaci, who lived in a mansion on a sprawling spread in Bensonhurst, eagerly embraced the drug trade, importing heroin through hollow wax oranges. He battled the IRS his entire life and attended the infamous Apalachin Conference, busted up by New York state troopers in 1957, but he never did time.

Among his domain was South Brooklyn's waterfront, a collection of bustling docks where tough guys who could have been contenders often worked for the family collecting debts or snatching cargo.

The only real challenge he faced came in 1960, when hotheaded soldier "Crazy Joe" Gallo, his two brothers, and ally Carmine Persico kidnapped Profaci's handpicked successor, his brother-in-law, Joseph Magliocco (who was around long enough to make an indelible mark in Mafia history), as well as another Profaci loyalist, Joseph Colombo, in retaliation for being denied a bookmaking racket.

Profaci loyalist Joseph Magliocco

The hostages were all let go after intense negotiations, during which the boss quietly convinced Persico to switch sides and join him.

When Profaci died from liver cancer in 1962, he had ruled for more than three decades -- though he was despised by much of the family, for forcing every last one of them to pay him a tithe and murdering those who complained.

Magliocco then took over, but not for long. He was forced out by the commission for plotting with Joe Bonanno to kill rival bosses Tommy Lucchese and Carlo Gambino.

The ill-fated scheme came to light after Magliocco ordered Colombo to do the hits and Colombo promptly told his targets instead of offing them. The deposed boss died of a heart attack in 1963, and the other families supported Colombo as the new family leader.

They would regret it.

The family took his name, and Colombo became the Mafia's first media star, raging at the FBI after agents arrested his son in 1970. He turned the beef into a crusade, organizing marches in front of the bureau's headquarters and casting its crackdown as an affront to Italian-American civil rights.

The attention brought increased FBI scrutiny, infuriating Gambino and other bosses. At a rally in Columbus Circle in 1971, an assassin pumped three bullets into Colombo's head, rendering him "vegetabled" in Crazy Joe's words. He clung to life until 1978 but never regained consciousness.

The shooting thrust the family into a rudderless era as a succession of bosses and acting bosses assumed and relinquished the throne. The strongest of them was Persico, who exacted revenge on Gallo soon after his old rival got out of prison.

Crazy Joe was celebrating his birthday at Umberto's Clam House in Little Italy in 1972 when gunmen opened fire on the party. The rubout became one of the most notorious in Mafia history.

But Persico -- nicknamed "The Snake" because he once crawled out from under a car to rub out a rival -- could not slither away from investigators and was sentenced to 100 years in 1986. He would remain boss but planned to pass day-to-day management to his son, Alphonse "Little Allie Boy," who was due to get out of jail two years later. In the meantime, capo Vic Orena got the job on an interim basis.

Persico's best-laid plans went belly-up. When Allie Boy got out, Orena refused to step down -- and a brutal and bloody war ensued.

The battle wouldn't end for two more years, during which 12 people were killed, including two innocent bystanders. Many were injured and scores of mobsters went to jail. The Persico faction eventually prevailed but at a huge cost to the family.

"I don't think they've ever recovered," said Brooklyn prosecutor Vecchione, who handled many of the cases against the Colombos. "There have been factions in other families, but nothing to this extent. The number of murders and the mayhem was unprecedented."

The episode's central character was Scarpa, who did the most shooting and once bragged, "I love the smell of gunpowder."

"The guy thought he was James Bond," marveled Vecchione. "He told his kids he worked for the government."

Scarpa and his common-law wife, Linda Schiro, worked together and shared a longtime ménage-à-trois affair with former delivery boy Larry Mazza, whom Scarpa turned into a valuable hit man.

His FBI handler, Lindley DeVecchio, was indicted in 2006 for allegedly helping Scarpa carry out four gangland killings, but the Brooklyn DA's office dropped the case when tapes emerged in which Schiro contradicted herself.

WHAT will happen to them now?

Following the crackdown headed by a 10-agent FBI team headed by veteran Colombo squad supervisor Seamus McLearney, rumors of the family's demise might not be exaggerated. There has long been talk of carving up the clan and spreading its members to the other four families.

Certainly, there are valuable pieces left.

The Colombos continue to exert control over the cement and concrete workers union, Local 6A. "You can't put a dollar figure on that," said one law-enforcement source. "And there's a lot of loan-sharking, which is extremely profitable."

But there's always a chance they'll scurry away to rob another day. There are some capable captains -- namely, Ralph Lombardo and William Russo, the son of jailed boss Andrew "Andy Mush" Russo.

There's a telling sign of how even when law enforcement thinks it has the mob cracked, there are still mysteries. Investigators don't know how Russo, now 76, got his nickname.

"There's nobody old enough to know," said one.


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