Longtime Genovese Associate Papa Smurf Franco, Who Copped To Being Mob Garbage Magnate, Died of COVID-19

Carmine (Papa Smurf) Franco, a longtime Genovese family associate who admitted to being a mobbed-up trash-hauling kingpin (and forfeited $2.5 million), died last Monday at age 85 from complications from COVID-19.

Carmine (Papa Smurf) Franco
Carmine (Papa Smurf) Franco, longtime Genovese associate.

Franco, who died at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan, is survived by his wife of 61 years Mary, their four children, 11 grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.

A Bergen County garbage magnate who for decades was involved in the trash hauling industry in North Jersey and beyond—both before and after he had been barred by the State of New Jersey from participating in the industry—Franco had been linked to the Genovese crime family since the 1980s, as per the New Jersey State Commission and the defunct Pennsylvania Crime Commission, which filed documents detailing Franco's ties and involvement in organized crime.

In November 2013, Franco copped to a plea deal before U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel that reduced the 45-year prison sentence he was initially looking at to one of 27-to-33 months. For that reduction, Franco admitted to secretly controlling the trash industry in North Jersey and parts of New York. Specifically, Franco pled guilty to one count of racketeering conspiracy, one count of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to transport stolen goods interstate.

Franco had been among 32 defendants arrested and charged in connection with an illegal scheme to exert control over the commercial waste-hauling industry in the greater New York City metropolitan area and in parts of New Jersey. In addition to the Genovese family, the Gambino and Luchese families also were involved in the case, which generated high--profile media coverage. Members of the enterprise engaged in various crimes to further their aims, including extortion, loansharking, mail and wire fraud, and stolen property offenses.

As part of his guilty plea, Franco acknowledged his membership in the criminal enterprise and his agreement with others to undertake at least two racketeering acts in furtherance of the enterprise. Specifically, Franco acknowledged that he committed mail and wire fraud by overbilling customers of a waste transfer station that he controlled in West Nyack, New York. He also acknowledged that he and his associates transported large volumes of stolen cardboard across state lines.

As for previous run-ins with the law, Franco pleaded guilty in the early 1980s after he was nabbed as part of a case brought against the Trade Waste Association. Franco avoided prison bars, receiving instead six months of work release and a fine.

Nabbed again in 1998, he was given nine months in jail—again on a work release program—and paid fines and restitution totaling around $11.5 million after pleading guilty to corporate misconduct. He and his sons had been charged with racketeering for bilking New Jersey State and Bergen County out of millions by shipping trash to out-of-state landfills. Franco and his sons were barred from the waste hauling industry because of this case, which also compelled them to let go of the reins of what had been a $100 million empire (at least as far as the paperwork was concerned).

Franco's name arose in Mafia discussions caught on tape by the FBI. The recordings were played during the 1995 prosecution of John Stanfa, the John Gotti-allied former boss of the Philadelphia crime family who was in a shooting war against Joseph (Skinny Joey) Merlino's mob faction, and who went away for life.

Ron Previte, Sal Avena, John Stanfa
From left: Ron Previte, Sal Avena (lawyer), John Stanfa

The recordings resulted from a bug that had been planted in the Camden, New Jersey, law offices of Sal Avena in an attempt to catch Stanfa on tape. The thinking was that Stanfa used his lawyer's office to talk mob business. That thinking was correct, Stanfa did. 

The Feds caught more than Stanfa on the tape.

For example, Colombo capo Salvatore Profaci—whose son was married to Avena's daughter—was recorded saying various things in the law office. He was recorded telling Stanfa that "Victor Orena is a gentleman, beautiful person, very, very capable, very, very qualified, level-headed. Carmine Persico's losing his mind." At the time,  then-Colombo acting boss Orena was seeking to dethrone Persico.

In some recordings, Carmine Franco was the topic. At the time there was a legal dispute between Franco and Avena, who were partners in a Philadelphia-based trash company. In 1992, Avena sued Franco in federal court in Philadelphia, alleging that Franco was defrauding the company. Franco countersued. (Louis Divita, who wrote A Wiser Guy, worked for Carmine Franco at AAA Waste and Recycling, which was the name of the company that the Avena-Franco dispute had to do with.)

Profaci was recorded telling Avena certain facts of life. Franco, he said, was a "goodfella" (though of course Franco was not a goodfella, he was an associate.)

Profaci warned Avena that he should seriously reconsider his lawsuit.

"We're all gonna get hurt," Profaci said. The Genovese family was "too powerful to cross."

Profaci said that the bosses in New York wanted the matter between Avena and Franco settled "in the court of honor'' rather than "the court of law.''

"By blowing Carmine out of the water, we are destroying their number-one earner in the whole organization,'' Profaci told Avena.

In another discussion, after listening to Avena protest about his rights to use the courts to protect his financial interests, Profaci told him:

"Goodfellas don't sue goodfellas. Goodfellas kill goodfellas.''

Avena and Franco entered into an out-of-court settlement shortly afterward.