When the Mafia Took A&P to War

One of the many myths of the Mafia is that it doesn't kill civilians, meaning "regular people" with no mob ties.

In fact, there are occasions when the mob has killed, or tried to kill innocent people. Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso ordered the murder of a civilian in a case of mistaken identity. Gaspipe also ordered the murder of another citizen in an attempt to convince Peter "Fat Pete Chiodo not to testify; Luchese gunmen, who first tried and failed to kill Fat Pete himself, next tried to kill his sister -- and failed as well. (Ironically, the attempt on his sister's life only emboldened the fence-sitting mobster to testify against his former criminal cohorts.)

Jerry Catena

And to those who think, "Gaspipe was nuts," there are numerous other examples, such as the murder of an NYPD cop who married the ex-wife of "Joe Waverly" Cacace, a former acting Colombo crime family boss.

All these hits were isolated and carried out for specific reasons, it could be argued. Or as Rudy Giuliani, former New York Mayor and mob-busting AG once described it, Mafia violence tends to have a certain rationality to it.

Nothing, however, that this blogger could find comes even close to the numbers of innocent victims hurt or killed in Gerardo "Jerry" Catena's war against the A&P supermarket chain in the early 1960s.

A&P execs were themselves clueless as to the cause of the ruthless violence committed against the chain.

Catena, who in 1959 was named to the Genovese crime family's ruling panel (which also included acting boss Tommy Eboli and Mike Miranda) had, along with his brother Gene, taken control of a company that manufactured household products. The Catena brothers wanted one of the products on the store shelves of A&P.

However, A&P officials rejected the product as "inferior."

The result was that four A&P employees died violently -- one was a manager shot to death at an A&P located in Elmont, New York. A total of six stores were fire-bombed under the ruthless Catena's orders.

And what was the product that caused all the bloodshed? 


Who Was Gerardo "Jerry" Catena?

The Friends of Ours blogger regularly scores tons of information via the Freedom of Information Act, and in February of this year he wrote a series of profiles about several mobsters 

In a blog post, he noted:

The U.S. Attorney's Office for New Jersey by letter dated August 25, 1959 requested the FBI's Newark field office for "information concerning five or six individuals considered . . . to be the most significant operators violating the Federal criminal statutes." With Director J. Edgar Hoover's approval, the G-men provided the federal prosecutors with memoranda on Antonio Caponigro, Gerardo V. Catena, Vito A. Genovese, Louis A. Larasso, Frank Majuri and Joseph Zicarelli....

Gerardo Catena.

This information is from Friends of Ours' post of the FBI's memorandum regarding Gerardo V. Catena.

He was born in Newark, New Jersey on January 8, 1902. He finished two years high school in Newark and in his early years was employed as a painter and laborer. He married in 1936 and presently resides in a two-story brick house valued at $50,000.00 located at 21 Overhill Road, in the exclusive Newstead Section of South Orange, N. J. with his wife and five children. Catena is presently employed by and is part owner of Runyon Sales Company of New Jersey, 221 Frelinghuysen Avenue, Newark, N. J., which is engaged in the juke box and coin operated machine business.

Catena first rose to power in gangland as a chauffeur and bodyguard for Abner "Longie" Zwillman, Newark, N. J. hoodlum who committed suicide by hanging in February, 1959. Catena later associated with Zwillman as a partner in the Public Service Tobacco Company, Hillside, N. J. Catena has also been known to have associated with Joe Adonis, [redacted]. He has also been to associate with Frank Costello, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, [name redacted], Joseph Stacher and Anthony "Tony Boy" Boiardo and Nicholas Delmore. 

It is noted that Catena's last arrest was in January 1934 on the charge of bribing a Federal Juror. This was the jury which was going to hear the case involving Nicholas Delmore for the killing of a Prohibition Agent in Elizabeth, N. J.

Read the rest of the post for additional information regarding companies that Catena had an interest in, as well as his participation at Apalachin.

Catena had an ownership interest in a lot of companies. This was back when gangsters were described as having the capability of running Fortune 500 companies. Jerry Catena certainly would've fallen into that category.

In 1970, Catena`s fortune was estimated to be at more than $10 million by a New Jersey state crime committee. In 1986 Fortune magazine ranked him as the fourth-richest mobster in the country. Who knows where these estimates come from. But we can take the word of New Jersey mob associate Anthony "Little Pussy" Russo, who said in a 1978 secretly recorded conversation: Catena had "more f---ing money than God."

In 1971, Underworld Involved in Food Industry was published in three parts; the series was written by Joe Demma and Tom Renner. It detailed a huge array of rackets involving the Mafia's illegal infiltration of the food industry, including supermarkets, around the country. 

This story only details one such racket, though it must rank as one of the most violent examples in the annals of the American Mafia.

It highlighted the story of Jerry Catena and his war against the A&P.

First, we visit an anecdote in Louis DiVita's book, A Wiser Guy.

In the chapter titled Poly Clean, Louis writes about how his uncle, Frank Palmeri, was college classmates with Dr. Sol Sobal, whose brother, Nathan, owned a chemical company. The company, North American Chemical Company, was located in Patterson N.J.

"Nathan was manufacturing detergent and cleaning products," one of which was a spray called "Poly Clean." It was an "all-in-one" cleaning product, like "Mr. Clean," Louis writes in A Wiser Guy.

And Nathan, it seems, had a bit of a problem. 

"Dr. Sobal confided in Frank that his brother needed to bring his sales to the next level."

Louis's uncle knew the Catena brothers were a power in the unions, so "he introduced Nathan to Jerry Catena, who turned him on to his brother Gene (Catena). Gene had Nathan hire his company, Best Sales, to get shelf space in all the supermarkets."

Back in 1964, according to Underworld Involved in Food Industry part two, North American Chemical Co. had sales of $3 million when it hired Best Sales Co. to sell its detergents. 

Some seven years later, the article noted, the company's sales had reached $8 million. Best Sales was operated by Eugene Catena, then a captain in the Genovese crime family, along with Jerry Catena, consiglieri (not underboss, as originally reported; Miranda allegedly was underboss). Nevertheless, Jerry was the power, as FBI transcripts later confirmed.

"Catena expected to sell the detergent to A&P Supermarkets as a private label and believed the sale would be easy because of his labor connections."

One of Catena's connections in 1964 was Irving Kaplan, the leader of Local 464 of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters, the union which was negotiating a contract with A&P at the time. The union previously had negotiated a contract with A&P that had saved the supermarket chains several million dollars in return for conscription of 10,000 employees as members of Kaplan's union plus $500,000 a year in dues to his local, according to the Senate Rackets Committee. 

Another connection was Joseph (Joe Peck) Pecora, who federal officials say is a Catena captain and is secretary treasurer of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 863. That local in 1946 conducted a two-month strike against A&P that cost the company more than $4 million a month. Both men, federal sources say, endorsed the detergent and suggested to A&P executives that it would be wise to use it. 

In 1965, federal sources say. Kaplan arranged to have Nathan Sobol, president of North American, make a sales pitch to A&P. He followed it up with a personal recommendation. Pecora also did his part, federal sources say, urging a trucking firm executive who dealt with A&P to "tell your boss (an A&P executive) to keep his word." 

A&P, however, after testing the product, turned it down as inferior.

Catena was furious, and FBI bugs recorded him promising to "Kick A&P's brains out." 

A&P stores and warehouses were suddenly hit by a series of arsons. 

Then, two store managers were shot to death, one in Elmont, the other in Brooklyn. The two murders occurred within one month of each other. 

Other managers were beaten. 

As for the arson, police sources pegged the supermarket chain's losses at around $60 million. 

Jerry Catena used a crew from Westchester, N.Y., according to federal sources. It was run by capo Nicholas "Cockeyed Nick" Ratenni.

Ratenni enforcer Joseph Maselli (who was serving a life-plus-three-year sentence by 1971 for the torture murder of an elderly widow) was identified by A&P store manager John Mossner as one of two men spotted in the Brooklyn A&P store Mossner ran; the duo had twice tried to set the store afire in December 1964. On Feb. 5, 1965, Mossner was shot to death. Someone apparently gave his car a flat tire; while he was changing it, he was shot to death by persons unknown.

Sobol was unaware of what was happening behind his back as Catena tried to force his detergent line down A&P's throat.

"If he asked them (Catena) how they were selling, they would tell us, 'you make it, we sell it. Don't ask what we are doing,' " one source said of Sobol and his employees.

Sobol told the New York Waterfront Commission that he'd signed a binding, 10- year contract with Catena because of "big promises" of sales.

According to the Feds, Sobol had to pay Catena $25,800 a year for 13 years in order to get Best Sales to stop working as a sales broker.

Payments were still being paid to Catena's estate when the 1971 article was published.

Based on FBI files later released, Anthony Provenzano, aka "Tony Pro," who controlled the Teamsters, wanted to organize the chemical company -- and was halted in his tracks when he learned that Catena had an interest in the company as the broker for its detergent products.

Catena, Tony Pro learned, wanted to avoid the company paying a higher wage due to Teamsters involvement until its financials improved.

Catena was indicted in 1970 and released from prison in 1972; he was released early due to an illness.

He retired to Florida and apparently lived his life without any contact with his former cohorts in crime. For some 30 years he lived in Boca Raton, Florida.

He died at the age of 98 of natural causes.