The Most Famous Mobster You Never Heard Of

Nicola "Nick" Gentile

Nicola "Nick" Gentile was a Sicilian-born Mafioso who spent decades of his life traveling across the United States witnessing key events that occurred during the formative years of the American Mafia.

He personally knew many of the players who established America's Cosa Nostra.

Gentle, born in 1884 in southern Sicily, arrived in the U.S. in 1903 at the age 19. He was associated with the Black Hand during the early 20th century, the infamous Italian crime ring known for extorting mostly fellow Italian immigrants.

Gentile went on to serve as a confidant, a kind of consiglieri-at-large to the U.S. Mafia throughout the early 20th century up until the Castellammarese War and the 1931 formation of New York's Five Families.

He was a troubleshooter, negotiator, messenger and mediator, and supposedly was a member of what later became the Gambino Family.

He mediated a dispute between the Morello "first crime family" and then-boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila in the 1920s. He also cooled down rising tensions stemming from ongoing disputes between mobsters in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City.

Gentile held temporary leadership roles in the Kansas City, Cleveland and Pittsburgh Mafia families and spent most of his time in those cities. Among his trusted associates for a time were Pittsburgh bosses Gregorio Conti and John Bazzano, and Cleveland's Joe Lonardo and Frank "Ciccio" Milano.

Gentile, a high-profile figure in the underworld during his heyday, was also the target of several hit attempts.

One of his more dramatic close calls occurred when he was called to the Chicago self-coronation of Salvatore Maranzano following the murder of Joe "The Boss" Masseria. Pittsburgh Mafia boss Giuseppe Siragusa had made accusations against Gentile, so he was supposed to participate in a sort of underworld trial that could have concluded with his execution. But first, Gentile met with host Al Capone to deny the charges and threaten to behead anyone who didn't believe him. 

Capone, impressed by Gentile's courage, sided with Nicola, who carried the day probably thanks to Scarface's support.

In 1937, he fled back to his homeland after he'd been arrested for heroin trafficking and then released on $15,000 bail. He assumed a top post in the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and was called "Zu Cola," or Uncle Cola.

After World War II, when Charlie "Lucky" Luciano was deported to Italy, U.S. narcotics enforcement agents believed Gentile joined him to put together a massive drug smuggling operation that reportedly extended to the U.S. (Such an operation was put in place, but most likely Luciano and Gentile had nothing to do with it.)

Later on in in the twilight of his criminal career, Gentile wrote about his Mafia experiences. American agents in Italy obtained a draft and turned it over to the FBI.

In the early 1960s, Gentile rewrote his manuscript with assistance from a journalist, who helped him revise and expand the work. It was released as "Vita di Capomafia." The book hit stores in Italy in 1963, the same year Joe Valachi appeared before the American public to expose the American Mafia. (In fact, it's alleged that Gentile's information was used by U.S. law enforcement officials to corroborate the truthfulness of Valachi's testimony.)

Ultimately, the Sicilian Cosa Nostra issued Gentile's death sentence for authoring the book. However, the men who were given the order, for whatever reason, didn't carry the hit out. Gentile died of old age in 1970. His passing went largely unnoticed by the American press but Gentile lives on as a reference for such mob scholars as John Dickie and C. Alex Hortis.

An English-language version of the book is unavailable.

If anyone out there has a copy, I'd very much like to read it...


  1. So Ed this guy was a freelancer who answered to those he did bussiness with at the time? And split the profits from deals he made and held court with other factions on sit downs and terrortorial decisions. Pretty much a mouth piece for the mafia over seas ' an ambassodor u might say. Did all that and died of old age is saying something right there. Philly

  2. I believe Gentile was made in Philadelphia. He transferred from family to family during his lifetime but he made his reputation in Pittsburgh. At that time the Sicilians there were paying tribute to the more powerful Neapolitans, Gentile formed a rebel faction of Sicilians as the current boss was to interested in going to war. Gentile's faction won and he was recognized as the boss, eclipsing the previous boss whom he soon had murdered.

  3. This is an overview ... there's a lot more detail I will get into in another story I'm working on.... I'm sure he got a piece of everything he did but remember he was here before the five families were even organized, before the Mob as we know it came into play. I included a link to a story in Century magazine (Nov 1917- April 1918) which came out twice a year regarding the Black Hand that is long and archaic but highly interesting....


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