Genovese Family Initiations Over The Years

Even though Joseph (Joe Cago) Valachi was made during the 1930-31 fighting of the Castellammarese War, his initiation ceremony seemingly was a warm and fuzzy affair that commenced only after the men in attendance had chowed down on home-cooked macaroni and drank red wine.
Anthony Arillotta
Anthony (Bingy) Arillotta

Valachi chronicled getting his button--in what is generally considered a “classic” initiation ritual--among a great many other  things in his bloated autobiography The Real Deal, which can be viewed on Thomas Hunt's American Mafia website.

Genovese turncoats and the Mafia's most solemn ceremony, the induction of new members, is the focus. As noted in a previous story on Anthony (Bingy) Arillotta, former boss of the Genovese crime family's Springfield crew, this month's GQ in the U.K. includes a cover story on the American Mafia in which Arillotta details his induction ceremony, during which he'd been asked to strip naked.

Anthony Arillotta was the fourth Genovese wiseguy to flip and testify since Joe Valachi in 1963. The second was Vincent (Fish) Cafaro in 1986, and then George Barone in 2001.

In 1964, one year after Valachi's televised testimony, the Department of Justice urged him to write a personal history to fill in gaps in his formal questioning. The resulting written account was a rambling 1,180 pages long. Author Peter Maas reportedly used the manuscript as source material for The Valachi Papers.

Valachi was at various times of his criminal career a member of the Reina/Lucchese, Maranzano/Bonanno, and Luciano/Genovese crime families of New York, as Hunt noted.

A series of events no fiction writer could’ve better imagined propelled Valachi down the path to defection. While in federal prison in Atlanta serving a 15-year bid for drug trafficking, Valachi learned that boss Vito Genovese — who had received a similar sentence and with whom Valachi was behind bars— was harboring strong suspicions about his loyalty.

Fearing for his life, Valachi took drastic measures in the prison yard in the summer of 1962 when he spotted “Joe Beck” DiPalermo coming to kill him. Valachi had hated Joe Beck, one of Don Vitone's close friends and allies. Joe Beck had once offered Valachi a steak sandwich that he was sure was poisoned.

Valachi wasn't taking any chances in the yard that day. He snatched a two-foot long metal pipe fortuitously lying nearby on the ground. Then he rushed up behind Joe Beck and bashed his head in, murdering him there in the prison yard.

Joe Beck DiPalermo
A  not great pic of Joe Beck, who Valachi didn't kill.

A delusional Joe Valachi had not viciously murdered Joe Beck, however. He had taken out John Joseph Sapp, a forger with no ties to organized crime who Valachi had mistakenly identified.

Valachi then faced a life sentence for second-degree murder. He decided to cooperate with the FBI.

His initiation happened while Valachi and cohorts were taking a respite from the shootouts and assassinations occurring with sporadic intensity in New York's five boroughs. Valachi, Solly, Nickie, and Chic 99 (all gunsels allied with Salvatore Maranzano against Giuseppe (Joe The Boss) Masseria) went for a drive.

Entering a house, they were greeted by Buster and the Doc -- and then Buster introduced Valachi to Salvatore Maranzano, who Valachi had never before met. Maranzano, Valachi writes, "told me to sit right next to him on his right and I said hello to everybody as it was too much trouble to go all around and shake hands and as the table was all set to eat.

"They had ordered for the spaghetti to be thrown into the boiling water and Mr. Marnazano asked everyone to stand up and he went on to explain that everyone make himself at home and after we eat we will all meet one another as this is a sort of get together meet."

The "important people" there, as Valachi called them, in addition to Mr. Maranzano, were Tom Gagalino, Joe Profaci, Joe Pasisades, Tom Lucheese, Joe Bonanno, Bobby Boyle, the Gap, also known as Dominick Petrilli, Nick Cappazzi, Nick Padovana, Salvatore Schillitani, alias Solly Schields, the Doc, Steve Rinelli, Charley Buffalo, and Buster.

After supper and coffee, Valachi and others (presumably to-be initiates, like Valachi) were led into another room where, after five minutes, they were called back in one at a time, Valachi reportedly first.

Joseph Valachi
Valachi at televised hearings in 1963.

"I went in the room and they were all standing by their chairs and I walked to the right of the room. I was directed to sit next to Mr. Maranzano, and on the table there was a gun and a knife. Well, he said some words in Italian which I did not understand, but I know what it meant. It meant that you live by the gun and the knife and you die by the gun and the knife. Then he gave me a piece of paper and he said that he will burn it and I shall push it back and forth and I shall say, as I do it, this is the way I shall burn if I ever expose this Cosa Nostra and then he went on to explain two important rules, as there are more, but this being time of war he only explained the two most important ones ... if you fool around with a member's wife or any part of his family there is no defense for you and the same goes for squealing. ...

"The last thing that was done before you were made a member was to draw a little blood from your shooting finger with a needle or a pin which meant now we are brothers and after it was all over everyone stood by their chairs and held hands again something was said in Italian, again I did not understand. ..."

Valachi also said that Joseph Bonanno, before he was boss of his own family in New York, had been  chosen to be Valachi’s “godfather," something Bonanno strenuously denied. Bonanno, he said, was the one who pricked his finger. (Bonanno didn't rise to boss until after Maranzano was slain in September 1931, months after the April 1931 slaying of Masseria. Bonanno was awarded most of Maranzano's crime family. At age 26, he was young for the position.)

All the men in attendance shook hands at the end of the meeting.

Vincent (Fish) Cafaro, a captain in the Genovese crime family, had been a protégé of Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno and was the first to reveal to the Feds the true leadership of the family. He outted Benny Squint Lombardo as boss and told how Vincent (Chin) Gigante succeeded him by quietly seizing power while a hospitalized Fat Tony recuperated from a stroke (talk about a bloodless coup!). Coincidentally, that same night, Benny Squint was occupying another room in the same hospital, New York University Hospital. To everyone else in the world, including members and associates of the Genovese family, Salerno was still boss.

Fish also told the FBI about a certain Genovese wiseguy in the suburbs who he described as a rising star. The FBI had never heard of Liborio (Barney) Bellomo until then. Rising star he was: Chin tapped Barney to be acting boss in the late 1980s, when Barney was still in his 30s.
(Fish's son, Thomas, followed his father into the Mafia. Later, a Bonanno informant told the FBI how close the Genovese family came to retaliating against Fish by whacking his son. Then, at the last minute, one of the powers in the Genovese family nixed the hit. "Fish had a son, and they were going to whack him," the informant, Joseph Barone, explained. But instead, this Genovese wiseguy "gave the order to let him go. He gave him a pass. The kid was a good kid, you know?” This powerful but forgiving wiseguy had simply decided against imposing the sins of the father on the son. The wiseguy who squashed the proposed hit on Tommy Cafaro was Liborio (Barney) Bellomo.)

Cafaro got his button in 1974 and more than a decade later, he seemed to fondly recall the details.

"I remember the day I became a member of the Genovese family. Fat Tony told me and Patty Jerome to meet him and Buckaloo one morning. When we arrived, Buckaloo took me to the EI Cortile Restaurant on Mulberry Street, where we met with Funzi Tieri, who at the time was the consigliere.... I knew what I was there for when I saw a gun, a knife, a pin, alcohol, and tissue laying out on the table. Funzi asked me if I wanted to become a member of the family. He said I could accept or not accept... But he also said "once you accept you belong to us."

Funzi continued: "We come first. Your family and home come second. We come first, no matter what."

"And I accepted. Funzi then showed me the gun and the knife, and says "This is the gun and the knife, you live with the gun and die by the knife."

"He told me that Fat Tony had sponsored me, and gave me a piece of paper to let burn in my hand while I took the oath. "If I betray the Cosa Nostra," he then pricked my trigger finger with the pin and told me, "I shall burn like this paper."

"Now you are amico nostra, you have been born over again. Now you are a man; you belong to us."

"From that point on, I was a soldier in the family, the most powerful mob family or "brugad" in New York City, and, for that matter, in the United States. "

Fish was told that all amico nostra lived by rules, including the same rules Valachi had been told about: "no fool­ing around with another amico nostra's wife," and "never talking about another amico nostra."

Fish also was admonished to avoid "junk" (drugs), pornography -- and government bonds (presumably because it was a federal crime warranting an excessive punishment).

Fish went on in testimony, "We were a very disciplined organization. A soldier had to check in at least once a week with his caporegime. A soldier could not make a "score," meaning any illegal business, without the approval of his capo. If he wanted to, a caporegime could demand 10 percent of the profits made by his soldiers."

Fish was told never to carry a gun without first getting approval.

"Most important, we knew never to ask questions about another amico nostra's business unless it was also our business.

"La Cosa Nostra enforces its rules through murder. So we even have rules about who could or could not be murdered, or, as we say on the streets, clipped, whacked or hurt."

Killings, he testified, were "mandatory" for certain offenses, including messing around with an amico nostra's wife, dealing in junk, ratting, refusing to go on a hit if asked, and knowingly killing a cop or other law-enforcement agent.

If someone you sponsored "ratted", you could be killed as being responsible for his actions.

No killing or "hit" could take place without approval. "The first step in getting that approval was to go to your capo, who in turn gets approval for the hit from the consiglieri and the underboss.

Barone confessed to killing so many men during his prime that he lost count.

Fish noted that he had never had to kill anyone for the family.

"As for me," he testified, "I was never asked to carry out a hit. I never had to kill anyone. This was because Fat Tony always looked out for me. It was like a father and son relationship.... "

George Barone of Genovese family
George  Barone in 1954.

George Barone was among the dozens of wiseguys nailed in 2001 by turncoat Michael (Cookie) D’Urso, the guy who wore the funny Rolex.

By then, Barone was an "aging, ailing, battle-weary Hell's Kitchen gangster" who "was a powerful waterfront racketeer in the days when the mob ruled supreme on the city’s docks," as Gang Land News reported.

Barone was the consummate labor racketeer, and  was tapped to oversee the International Longshoremen’s Association, which controlled the docks up and down the East Coast. Barone rose to the rank of vice president of the union and ran locals in New York and Miami.

A World War II veteran of five Allied invasions, including Iwo Jima, Barone also attended Pace College before obtaining work on the waterfront in the late 1940s.

In his day, Barone had been intimately associated with Vito Genovese while fending off the non-union efforts of mob capo Carmine (The Doctor) Lombardozzi, who worked for Albert Anastasia. Genovese and Barone were fierce rivals of Anastasia.

Barone and a pal founded the Jets, the street gang later immortalized in West Side Story.

The real-life Jets, however, were murderous. 

"We took over the whole West Side and killed a lot of people," Barone once recalled.

“He’s the real deal, a guy who knows it all and decided to get out rather than die in jail,” one law enforcement official told Gang Land speaking of Barone.

His lucrative labor racketeering partnership with Genovese ended in 1958 after the leader of The Jets was killed. Barone then became a personal hit man for Fat Tony Salerno in the 1960s and ’70s.

Barone confessed to killing so many men during his prime that he had lost count, estimating that his victims probably numbered somewhere between 12 and 20.

“I didn’t keep a scorecard,” he growled.

He flipped owing to an indictment on extortion charges but also because he claimed that members of his own crew had plotted to murder him.

“My mission is to tell the corrupt story of all those years I did their bidding, all those years I was a very faithful Mafia soldier,” he said. “I want everyone to know what went on in the ILA. I’m here to tell the story of the ungratefulness of all the bums that I put in jobs that turned against me.”

When Barone testified about his initiation, he claimed he couldn't remember many of the specifics.

In the 1970s, he'd gotten a promotion and one morning he was told to report to an apartment on East 115th Street where, along with a handful of others, he was inducted in a formal ceremony into the Genovese crime family.

It was a businesslike affair that had been prematurely terminated: the elderly Mafioso officiating grew too sick and weak to conduct the full service.

The new Genovese wiseguys celebrated afterward by going out to breakfast.

Bingy's testimony in Manhattan federal court in 2011 supposedly marked the first time that a certain revelation about the mob had been made public. Some New York families (at least the Bonannos and Genoveses) were having members strip (to their undershorts) during their initiation ceremony.

The practice supposedly commenced following a big screwup in 1989; the Fed's managed to infiltrate and record a Patriarca initiation ceremony. (It wouldn't be surprising if the mob reinvigorated the stripping policy due to the recent recording of a Bonanno initiation in Canada.)

Arillotta this month gave a detailed account of his ceremony, noting how he had swapped out his black Ford Expedition SUV for his mother’s Nissan Maxima before making the two-hour drive to New York City early on the morning of August 11, 2003.

He drove to a restaurant called the Nebraska Steakhouse near Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and headed inside.....

From the UK-version of GQ magazine:

The restaurant was closed when Arillotta arrived, but the door was unlocked. Inside, he recognised the four men at the table, all of them captains, a senior rank in the club he was about to join. They offered him a coffee. He took a shot of espresso and the men waited for three more people to arrive.

Then, it was time.

‘I will never break this oath. If I do, it’ll be death on me. I will be destroyed’

Under instructions from one of the captains, Arillotta and the three other initiates began to remove their jewellery and place it on the table. They took their mobile phones from their jacket pockets and placed them alongside. Arillotta took off his watch and the gold chain with a cross that hung round his neck. Then they climbed into a black Cadillac Fleetwood parked outside.

The journey was short, just a few city blocks. The Cadillac pulled up in front of an old Bronx apartment building and the men, some in suits, others in smart trousers and shirts, began to walk up a narrow set of concrete stairs to the third floor.

The inside of the apartment looked more like a social club. Dimly lit, with old wooden tables and chairs, it reminded Arillotta of a Twenties gambling den. One of the captains, Stevie, told him to get undressed in the tiny bathroom down the hallway and put on a white bath robe.

Then he was led into a back room where the other three captains were waiting. There was another man in the room too, someone Arillotta knew well. Arthur Nigro (pronounced Ny-row) who went by “Artie”. He was the acting boss of this club and he stood there wearing a grey suit and button-up dress shirt.

“Do you know why you’re here?” Nigro asked Arillotta.

“No. I don’t know why I’m here,” he said. He knew the responses expected of him. It was an age-old script.

“We are part of a secret, honoured society. It’s exclusive and the reason you’re here today is because we’d like you to be part of this brotherhood of ours. Is that something you would want to be part of?”

“Yes,” replied Arillotta.

“If your wife was giving birth to your child and the boss called for you, would you leave her bedside and come?”

This resonated particularly strongly with Arillotta. His daughter would be born the next day.

“Yes,” he said.

On the small wooden table beside Nigro there was a .38 revolver and a marble-handled knife with a six-inch blade. “You see this gun and knife,” Nigro asked him. “Would you use the knife that’s on this table to kill someone if your bosses asked you to do it?”

“Yes,” said Arillotta.

“If your brother did something to harm a member of our family and we asked you to take this gun and kill him, would you do that?”

He asked Arillotta to point to his trigger finger and Nigro took the knife and made a small incision. A bead of blood appeared. Nigro took a small piece of cloth, wiped the blood away and placed the cloth in the palm of Arillotta’s hand. He then struck a match, lit the corner of the cotton and Arillotta tossed the burning linen from one hand to the other.

Non romperò mai questo giuramento, Nigro said then asked Arillotta to repeat in English: “I will never break this oath. If I do, it’ll be death on me. I will be destroyed like this cloth in my hand.”

Nigro kissed him on both cheeks then shook his hand. “Hello, friend,” he said.

What looked like a scene from The Godfather or a snapshot from the annals of American crime history was in fact happening in present-day America. Arillotta had just been “made”, inducted into the Genovese crime family, the largest and most powerful of New York’s infamous Italian-American mafia dynasties.