Who The Hell Are You To Take Over A Borgata?

In September 1964, illegal bugs planted in the meeting places of high-level Mafiosi across the nation by covert teams of FBI agents started to pick up bits of related news regarding the fate of a sitting member of the Mafia Commission.

Bonanno consented to an interview with 60 Minutes. It was a mistake.

The FBI black bag operation commenced as part of J. Edgar Hoover's post-Apalachin strategic intelligence gathering efforts, and in September 1964, it captured in real-time word of a Commission ruling as it hurtled like a brushfire from New York City to the nation's 24 crime families.

Frank DeSimone, the Los Angeles Cosa Nostra boss, was heard in San Francisco telling a boss there that Joseph Bonanno was out.

Thomas (Tommy Ryan) Eboli, acting boss of the Genovese Family, and underboss Gerry Catena together had traveled to the Providence, Rhode Island, headquarters of Raymond Patriarca, boss of the New England Family, to explain that Bonanno was out.

Catena also was heard ordering members of his crew to steer clear of all Bonanno family members until a new Boss was selected.

In Chicago, an FBI bug heard Sam (Momo) Giancana go beyond discussing Bonanno's status. Tony Accardo's front boss offered his thoughts on how the Commission should respond when Bonanno ducked orders to appear and explain himself: "Kill! Kill! Kill! Don't fcking send for him again, fcking kill him!"

Back when 1950 was about to become 1951.... Some two decades after the 1931 reorganization, as the five New York families steadily accumulated wealth and prosperity, four of the original bosses were at the height of power: Joseph Bonanno, Joseph Profaci, Vincent Mangano, and Gaetano (Tommy) Gagliano.

Three of the five families alone -- the two smaller ones run by the Joes Profaci and Bonanno and one of the larger ones, run by Mangano -- shared the huge borough of Brooklyn.

In his 1983 memoir, A Man of Honor, Bonanno described himself, Profaci, Mangano, Gagliano, and his cousin, Buffalo boss Stefano Magaddino, as the Conservative (or traditional) wing of the Mafia Commission. 

"We were the Tories of the Commission, and for almost thirty years our views prevailed. We were the most tradition-bound, and our philosophy reflected our Sicilian roots. For example, we steadfastly opposed such immoral enterprises as prostitution and narcotics trafficking. For nearly thirty years, we on the conservative faction presented a common front."

The liberal wing included Charlie Luciano, Gaetano (Tommy) Luchese, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, and Carlo Gambino who "represented new tendencies in our Tradition. All of these men, to a greater or lesser extent, reflected and embodied American trends which we of the old school found distasteful and potentially ruinous."

The Commission (which the FBI first learned of as per its post-Apalachin “strategic intelligence” gathering operations) was formed in 1931 following the murder of Salvatore Maranzano at the conclusion of the Castellamarese War.

''We revised the old custom of looking toward one man, one supreme leader for advice and the settling of disputes," Bonanno noted. "We replaced leadership by one man with leadership by committee. We opted for a parliamentary arrangement whereby a group of the most important men in our world would assume the function formerly performed by one man. This group became known as the Commission. It originally consisted of the five New York Fathers and the Fathers from Chicago and Buffalo.''

For stability, the Commission fixed the size of each American Mafia family at its 1931 level. The Commission, which was empowered to close the membership books, intervened in Mafia disputes only when problems arose to threaten the common interest. Then the parties directly involved in the dispute would agree to accept the Commission's authority and recommendations.

In 1950, as per government estimates, about 2,000 made men and thousands of wannabes and associates operated freely in New York City and nearby suburbs. The five families made up nearly half of the entire American Mafia, which historically consisted of 24 crime families, with about 5,000 total Mafioso. The New York families were far larger and more powerful than the second-largest Mafia group, the Chicago Outfit, which had about 300 soldiers.

The bosses (including their very names, never mind words like Mafia and La Cosa Nostra) and their crime families were virtually invisible to the vast majority of the American public and law enforcement. The exceptions were men like Salvatore Lucania (aka Charlie Lucky Luciano) and Frank Costello, who became high-profile gangsters who were alleged to dwell at the center of nebulous underworlds (which fueled numerous Hollywood storytelling tropes that long outlived the mobsters themselves). Details about the extent of their power and true status in Cosa Nostra were mostly not understood, though some were developing inklings. Like Harry Anslinger, the first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), a DEA precursor that was established in 1930, one year before the Mafia. One of the first national law enforcement agencies to chase wiseguys, the FBN followed the flow of illegal drugs--from port to truck to distributor to consumer--and in the process, created thousands of files on hoodlums, runners, killers, dealers, shylocks, bosses -- inadvertently mapping and profiling La Cosa Nostra. (The FBN considered the Mafia tightly disciplined and organized along clan lines, with its members “absolutely obedient to the officers of the organization,” as David Critchley writes in The Origin of Organized Crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891–1931. "During the 1950s, the FBN apparently believed that the American organization was run from Palermo, Sicily.")

In 1951, the complexion of the Commission started to change as the old bosses died (either from natural or less natural causes) and new ones took over.

On February 16, 1951, Gagliano died and his underboss, Tommy Luchese, took control....

In April 1951, Vincent Mangano disappeared and was never found. (A few days before his disappearance, brother Philip Mangano was found in the Bergen Beach section of Brooklyn with three bullets in his head.)....

The year 1957 saw the formal rise (at Apalachin) of Carlo Gambino to replace the murdered Albert Anastasia, with the backing of Vito Genovese (who was sent to prison in 1959)...

By the 1960s, a characteristic unique to the five families in New York increasingly presented itself as a fundamental flaw. Outside New York, American cities had only one crime family with a single boss residing at the top. The typical American godfather could enjoy a long, robust career capped by a natural death, probably in their own bed. But bosses in the extremely crowded and competitive New York area began getting shot to death. Or they simply vanished off the face of the earth.

Bonanno in A Man of Honor noted: "The Volcano, because of its intense energy and contested wealth, was not a safe place for Fathers. In other cities with only one Family, Fathers, with rare exceptions, enjoyed long careers and died of natural causes. In New York City, however, where strife was almost routine, Fathers led precarious lives."

Gambino and Luchese were both bosses with seats on the Commission. The alliance between the two had grown to the extent that it even reflected the longtime pact that existed between the two Joes (Bonanno and Profaci). Both sets of allies were related by marriage: In 1962, Carlo's son Thomas married Luchese's daughter Frances, just like in 1956, Bonanno's son Bill married Rosalie Marie Profaci.

Then cancer killed Profaci, and Bonanno's power on the Commission was weakened. Gambino and Luchese recognized they had a red-hot opportunity to increase their power significantly.

Profaci died on June 11, 1962, leaving a successor the pressing problem of resolving the Gallo brothers' revolt. Crazy Joey, Albert (Kid Blast), and Larry had been part of Profaci's hit team. They grew to despise Old Man Profaci, deeming him a greedy despot. The Gallos wanted their "fair" share of family spoils for doing all the heavy lifting ....

His longtime fellow Tory on the Commission deceased, Bonanno became the last Cosa Nostra boss from 1931 to still be active in New York. After 30 years at the helm of a family, Joe Bonanno was in his late 50s and had lost none of his ambition to remain at the tippity top of the Mafia pyramid. ...

Bonanno needed to get the right man into position to run the Profaci family and sit on the Commission, or he couldn't possibly oppose the Gambino-Luchese alliance. He was threatened with something worse than death: Irrelevance. The Gallo feud made Bonanno's task significantly more difficult because Profaci's successor had to be someone who could reach a truce with the Gallo brothers pretty quickly, as other Commission bosses were more than weary of the strife. (So the Gallo brothers effectively had the power to veto a successor.) 

It was Bonanno's own fault that he could no longer count on the support of his own blood. He had grown increasingly estranged from his powerful cousin, Stefano Magaddino, the Buffalo godfather and permanent Commission member. Magaddino now posed spirited opposition to Bonanno after the two had repeatedly bumped heads over their ongoing territorial disputes in Canada. Bonanno seemed to be incapable of stopping himself from maneuvering to expand into Magaddino’s backyard.

Buffalo Boss Stefano Magaddino
Magaddino grew to become one of Bonanno's most vocal critics.

The cold war between Bonanno and Magaddino reached a crescendo when in 1961 Bonanno started plotting to take control of Los Angeles. Cousin Stefano positioned himself at the forefront of the opposition to Bonanno's expansionist efforts on the West Coast. Bonanno had duly noted the tremendous wealth being generated in Southern California, and felt something akin to outrage that Frank DeSimone, the boss of the Los Angeles family, was not exploiting it. Bonanno wanted to replace DeSimone and his crew -- with his son, Bill, who would provide better (not to mention friendlier) leadership. Bonanno believed he had a good feel for California from his role on the Commission, which gave him oversight of the small families operating in San Francisco and San Jose. Bonanno believed that by seizing control of Los Angeles, he could then easily dominate Mafia activities on both coasts.

So he schemed to send 40 soldiers to grab what DeSimone was leaving on the table. Then someone got cold feet and spilled the beans. Bonanno was hauled before the Commission but somehow wormed his way out of trouble. That time.

Following Profaci's death, Bonanno threw his support behind Joe Magliocco, Profaci’s brother-in-law and underboss, to be the new head of Profaci’s borgata. This was the beginning of the end for Bonanno. Magliocco had only a shaky claim to the top position, and Gambino and Luchese both stood to benefit enormously by not allowing that elevation to happen.

The Gallo War by then had become a proxy fight between opposing factions of the Commission.

Luchese and Gambino had quietly supported the Gallo brothers, as did Anthony (Tony Bender) Strollo. The Genovese acting boss used some of the leeway provided by Vito's imprisonment to maneuver to pocket some of Profaci's rackets. Then Strollo disappeared in April 1962, likely because he supported the Gallos. (Vito Genovese had grown to harbor suspicions about the loyalties of his acting boss.)

Other members of the Genovese family, including Vincent (Chin) Gigante, supported the Gallo brothers.

The Gallo War was considered the first serious breach of discipline in a New York family since the bloody 1930-31 struggles. When the Gallo brothers (and their supporters) refused to accept a Magliocco regime atop the Profaci family, Bonanno saw his only effort to halt the juggernaut of the Gambino-Luchese alliance reach a screeching stop.

Bonanno's only remaining play was an extreme one: He would have to kill both Gambino and Luchese, and possibly Magaddino. Most Mafia investigators of the day believed that this was the major dynamic at play.

Magliocco went along with Bonanno's plan and met with Joseph Colombo, a loyal Profaci capo with a well-deserved reputation for violence. Magliocco gave orders to kill multiple people. (Bonanno believed that by outsourcing the job to Magliocco, he could effectively hide his hand in what would have been a bloodbath.)

Colombo, 40 years old, was savvy enough to realize the inherent difficulties in carrying out double (never mind triple) hits, not to mention the orders were to take out bosses. Colombo also grasped the desperation behind the effort -- and instinctively sensed which bosses were likely to prevail in the struggle for dominance over the New York Mafia. (Especially if they had a little outside assistance, say from him?)

Colombo reached out to Gambino to warn him, not to kill him.

Armed with Colombo’s evidence, Gambino, Luchese, and the rest of the Commission summoned Bonanno and Magliocco. Magliocco threw himself at their feet; he begged his Mafia brethren for mercy and readily confessed. He was banished from the Mafia for life and fined $43,000 to cover the costs of the Commission investigation that considered the complaints against him and Bonanno.

In September 1963, Magliocco, disgraced, summoned those capos still loyal to him to announce a cease-fire in the war with the Gallos and to reveal that he was not going to inherit the position left vacant by Profaci after all.

Within a year he was dead of a heart attack.

Colombo, for carefully containing the tempest almost set in motion by Bonanno, was anointed the boss of the crime family formerly under Profaci and was granted a seat on the Commission.

And Bonanno never showed up to face his accusers and risk their wrath. (He would hide in California and in Canada for years exploring opportunities to poach rackets in those areas. He left his New York operations to trusted aides and appointed his eldest son, Salvatore (Bill) as the family’s consigliere.)

The FBI bugs planted on Mafiosi across the country caught various wiseguys discussing the events.

New Jersey boss Simone (Sam the Plumber) DeCavalcante discussed the situation with capo Joseph Sferra on August 31, 1964, saying: “It’s about Joe Bonanno’s borgata. The Commission don’t like the way he’s comporting himself.”

Bonanno had promoted Bill to consigliere, and like father, like son:  Bill and Joe Bonanno both ducked the Commission's orders to appear for a reckoning.

“Well, he made his son consigliere—and it’s been reported, the son, that he don’t show up,” DeCavalcante explained.

On September 21, 1964, DeCavalcante told Bonanno soldier Joseph Zicarelli about how the Commission had stopped both Magliocco and Bonanno in their tracks.

“The Commission went in there and took the family over. When Profaci died, Joe Magliocco took over as boss. They threw him right out. ‘Who the hell are you to take over a borgata?’ And Signor Bonanno knows this. When we had trouble in our outfit, they came right in. ‘You people belong to the Commission until this is straightened out.’”

Magaddino was recorded speaking with a soldier in Buffalo about Bonanno’s efforts to expand in both Canada and California without Commission approval.

"Not even the Holy Ghost could come into my territory without authorization.”

The Genovese family hierarchy also lined up against Bonanno.

On an FBI bug in September 1964, Tommy Ryan told Vito’s brother Michael that Bonanno's moves could have destroyed the Mafia.

“If one member can dispute a Commission order you can say good-bye to Cosa Nostra, because the Commission is the backbone of Cosa Nostra. It will be like the Irish mobs who fight among themselves and they [the Italians] will be having gang wars like they had years ago.”

Bonanno had more problems on his plate -- most prominently, the anti-racketeering bills that Robert F Kennedy had steered through Congress before he resigned as AG seemed to specifically target Bonanno.

Then Robert M. Morgenthau, the aggressive US Attorney in Manhattan, impanelled a grand jury that subpoenaed Bonanno for questioning. The walls started approaching Bonanno from both sides.

Shortly before midnight on October 20, 1964, Bonanno, who was supposed to testify or face possible imprisonment for contempt the next day, dined with three of his lawyers in Manhattan.

Afterward, he and attorney William Power Maloney took a cab to Maloney’s apartment on Park Avenue and 36th Street, where Bonanno had planned to spend the night...

And Bonanno disappeared....

Before you go, check out these classic clips from the Benny Hill Show....

Why? Why not.