DEA Report on Carmine Galante Leaked To Media Was "Bullshit," FBI Agent Later Said

Intense media speculation followed Carmine Galante as he walked out of prison in 1974 and stayed on him for the five years he had left on this earth. He was targeted by television cameras as well as newspapers and magazines (stories were even written about all the stories that had been written about him). He also had to deal with law enforcement seeking to violate him and send him back to prison, which happened more than once after his 1974 release, including months before he was brutally gunned down with two other men on the back patio of a Bushwick, Brooklyn restaurant on Knickerbocker Avenue.

Carmine Galante

Suspected of more than 80 homicides, Galante, pictured above, was a lifelong mobster who became a key power in the Bonanno crime family. A confident of boss Joe Bonanno himself, Galante was involved in every racket and enterprise imaginable, including international heroin trafficking. Galante was a shark who made a massive mark on the underworld, and not only in New York and the United States. 

Galante, shortly after his 1974 release, was going to use his army of Sicilian soldiers to take over the entire New York Mafia, kill all his enemies in the Gambino family (and anywhere else), and start bringing tons of heroin into New York City, reports seemed to say. In 1976, he reportedly had already made a move, while an ailing Carlo Gambino was still alive and on the Mafia Commission. Galante reportedly mounted a successful campaign to convince the bosses on the mob’s “board of directors” to reopen the membership books and permit each family to initiate 10 new members. Gambino was powerless to stop him.

Decades later, this year, in fact, 2020, just prior to the onset of the COVID-19 quarantine, more details about that 1976 books-reopening episode came to light. 

In the Daily News, Larry McShane reported that, according to long-buried FBI documents (which the News jogged loose via a FOIA request), the books were reopened because members of the Commission had banded together to thwart Gambino, who had been the dominant Commission force keeping the books closed since 1970, when a Boston snitch gave information that got Gambino arrested for allegedly masterminding armored truck hijackings. 

“Source states Gambino adamantly opposed new membership for fear of informant penetration,” says the Feb. 17, 1976, memo sent directly to FBI Director Clarence Kelley about the top-echelon sit-down. "However (he) was outvoted 4 to 1 and reluctantly agreed to go along with the proposal of 10 new members each for the five families. “Source speculated that if Gambino had been able to persuade one other LCN (La Cosa Nostra) boss to oppose the proposal he would have been in a position to delay or prevent implementation.” 

Galante isn’t mentioned in those newly released documents. 

Then there's the matter of the leaked DEA dossier. On July 23, 1979, less than two weeks after Galante was slain, Jack Newfield reported in the Village Voice that a highly speculative DEA report on Galante had been leaked to the press in 1976, probably by someone with the DEA, which at the time was engaged in a bureaucratic brawl with the FBI to maintain its independence. The 59-page dossier (which clearly fueled multiple major news reports, including in the New York Times) was filled with “contradictions, hedging qualifications, hearsay, gossip, raw surveillance anecdotes, and investigative leads,” the Newfield story, headlined The Myth of Godfather Journalism, claimed. 

Completed in December 1976, it was signed by a single investigator: Special Agent Michael Cunniff. We found the Newfield report online and aren’t aware of a single book or story or whatever about Carmine Galante that references it, and we want to highlight it here.

"Galante is allegedly now the de facto head of the Bonanno La Cosa Nostra family and, according to information from underworld sources, he is a strong candidate for the post of capo di tutti capi," the DEA report alleged, adding, “Many Gambino family members believe that Galante is only a tool for Joe Bonnano. (Sic: the Bonanno name was consistently misspelled in the report as Bonnano.)” 

An FBI agent told Newfield: “It’s all bullshit. We don’t really know what’s going on. It’s all tribal warfare with shifting alliances. We are not allowed to put a tail on any of these guys unless we have specific knowledge he has committed a crime.…” In fact, not a single investigator with a single law enforcement agency had been tailing Galante on the day he was killed. (These were in the days prior to RICO, which was first used against Genovese front boss Funzi Tieri in the early 1980s.)

“A few years ago we took movies of Galante at his summer house on Long Island. And we had guys making mafia charts based on these movies. If Galante helped a guy into his house with his suitcase, we decided it was a sign of respect, so the guy must be a big shot, a capo. If Galante didn’t help carry the guy’s bags, we decided he must be a button, or nothing. Maybe Galante just had a bad back one day. Or felt tired. And we were making serious charts based on meaningless gestures which newspapers printed as if it was definite…

“I once had an informant who told me all sorts of stories. Later I found out the guy was simultaneously an informant to the New York City Police Department, only I didn’t know it. What he was telling the police was completely different than what he was telling the bureau. And we were both paying him for his bullshit.”

One problem with the Voice story would seem to be that Newfield didn’t highlight one obvious disclosure: the FBI agent who spoke to him, in denouncing the DEA report, also might have had a dog in that jurisdictional fight with the DEA. 

The story is worth reading. It also includes the following:

"A few hours after Carmine Galante was blown away in Bushwick with the cigar clenched in his mouth, a federal prosecutor began to reach out for his undercover informants in the mafia. No law enforcement agency had a tail on Galante the day he was shot, and the prosecutor wanted to know who arranged for the execution.

"His informants didn’t know any­thing, either. But they all get money or immunity from law enforcement for providing information, and they were afraid to admit they knew no secrets. The informants feared they would lose status, or credibility, or even their jobs if they confessed their ignorance. So they all invented theo­ries for Lilo’s demise and attributed them to “word on the street” and other ephemeral sources.

"Soon reporters were calling this federal prosecutor, demanding the in­side story of why Galante was hit. The prosecutor did not know, just as his informants did not know. But he could not confess his ignorance to the media, just as his undercovers could not confess their ignorance to him. One television reporter said to the prosecutor: “Just give me your rankest speculation.”...

We are very close to finally finishing that story and will publish shortly. Every time we start researching a final loose end, we find another detail we decide we need to fit in the story....