The Other Most Powerful Figure in the Mafia

We occasionally run quotes and little anecdotes in the sidebar, but decided to move these items here and call them "Wiseguy Wisdom," as part of an ongoing series. 

We did away with the "Wiseguy Wisdom" part...

And apropos of nothing: Why is it that encyclopedias are acceptable sources of information (yes, I know the Encyclopedia is now called "Google" but I am old enough to have a bookcase full of them) in nearly every field except when it comes to Mafia research?

Fat Tony

“They are really much better for you, Mr. Salerno. Better than all that chocolate," an FBI agent told Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno during the Commission Trial, offering the elderly gangster a nutritious granola bar.

“Who the fuck cares. I’m gonna die in the fucking can anyway,” Salerno replied.

He did, on July 27, 1992.

Salerno had a hell of a run.

During the 1980s, he ostensibly became boss of the Genovese family. He had reached the pinnacle of his power--and spent almost all his remaining life behind bars.

It later became clear that Salerno was not the true power: Salerno was only a "front man."

Ever since the death of boss Vito Genovese in 1969, the real family leader had been "Benny Squint" Lombardo. Over the years, Lombardo used several acting bosses to disguise his true status from law enforcement and the other four New York crime families. At the same time Lombardo was grooming Vincent Gigante as his successor. 

Salerno's plot in St. Raymond's
Cemetery in the Bronx
According to Vincent "Fish" Cafaro, Salerno became front boss in 1981 to protect Gigante, who seems to have taken a page from Lombardo's book and run all the way to the nuthouse with it.

In a 1986 article, Fortune magazine rated Salerno the most powerful and wealthiest gangster in America, citing earnings in the tens of millions from loan sharking, profit skimming at Nevada casinos and charging a "Mafia tax" on New York City construction projects. 

At the time, he maintained a home in Miami Beach, a 100-acre estate in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and an apartment in Gramercy Park. (How on earth could Fortune calculate his net worth? And how could they know he was the wealthiest?)

"He was extremely powerful," Howard Abadinsky, professor of criminology at St. Xavier University in Chicago and the author of several books on organized crime, told the New York Times. He compared Salerno to the reputed head of the Gambino family at that time, Paul Castellano. 

"Castellano was perhaps first among equals, but Fat Tony would have been the other most powerful figure on the East Coast."

In 1986, after the Commission Case trial that helped establish the use of RICO statutes against the mob, Salerno and seven other defendants were convicted of operating as members of a sort-of "board of directors" that ruled the Mafia throughout the United States.

He and others were given sentences of up to 100 years.

Salerno also was convicted in 1988 for a scheme to allocate contracts and obtain payoffs for constructing the concrete superstructures of 16 Manhattan buildings, including the Jacob J. Javits Convention Center. He was sentenced to 70 years on that conviction.
By N. Christophers

Salerno, who had been in failing health since entering the prison system in 1989, died of complications from a stroke that he suffered on July 18, the officials said.

He supposedly ordered one last hit, from his deathbed. Salerno was 80 years old when he died.

On a wiretap at a mob hangout, Federal agents once recorded Salerno bemoaning a disrespectful young gangster who had called him "Fat Tony" to his face. "If it wasn't for me, there wouldn't be no mob left,"Salerno said. "I made all the guys."

Cosa Nostra News: Fat Tony: A Mobster's Mobster to the Very End: "Much has been written about Mafiosi making their peace with God before shuffling off this mortal coil. Carlo Gambino, the unofficial Boss of Bosses for decades when he ruled the underworld, made a deathbed confession and died in a "state of grace," washed of probably the most violent and horrible sins of which a human being is capable. His successor, Paul Castellano, was not so lucky. John Gotti might have robbed him of a lot more than his life and position in the Mafia. "