East Harlem Purple Gang

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The East Harlem Purple Gang was a semi-independent group of Italian American hit-men and heroin dealers who according to Federal prosecutors dominated heroin distribution in East Harlem and the Bronx during the late 1970s in New York City. The gang was originally affiliated with the Lucchese crime family and later with the Bonanno crime family and Genovese crime family, and its remnants are now part of the 116th Street Crew.[1] They allegedly named their group the 'Purple Gang' as a tribute to a Prohibition Era gang (Purple Gang) that terrorized Detroit 50 years earlier.[2] Membership in the group was restricted to Italian Americans who grew up on Pleasant Avenue[2] between 114th and 120th streets, just east of 1st avenue, also known as Italian Harlem.[3]

In 1977, at the peak of its strength, The Purple Gang had 30 members according to police reports and 80 associates.[2] After the arrest of Leroy Barnes, the top heroin dealer in Harlem, the Purple Gang began supplying heroin to his network of African-American dealers in Harlem at $75,000 per kilogram. In 1977, law enforcement claimed that the Purple Gang committed at least 17 homicides, some on behalf of 'organized crime principals'.[2]

Law enforcement speculated that during the late 1970s, the Purple Gang developed a relationship with Nicaraguan drug dealers, trading firearms for drugs.[2]

The Purple Gang disintegrated during the late 1970s and was absorbed into the current 116th Street Crew. Some members were invited to join the Mafia and became made men, including Angelo Prisco and Daniel Leo[4] who became the acting boss of the Genovese crime family in 2005.[5]

Pleasant Avenue[edit]

Pleasant Avenue, a six-block stretch in East Harlem is one of the most famous incubators of the Italian Mafia in New York City. Anthony 'Fat Tony' Salerno, ran the Genovese crime family from Pleasant Avenue. Rao's, an exclusive restaurant in New York, is located here. In the 1960s and 1970s, Pleasant Avenue was so protected by the mob that residents did not lock their doors.[3]

Locals still recall such colorful characters as Eddie the Butcher, whose meat shop on 119th st supposedly didn't sell a single piece of meat in 40 years and Charlie Ding-Ding's candy shop on 118th st was a casino by night.[3]

Anthony Loria Sr., longtime partner of Vincent Papa who masterminded the "Who Stole The French Connection" corruption scandal was born and raised on Pleasant Avenue. This scheme involved corrupt NYPD and law officials that allowed the drug lords to steal an estimated 70 million dollars of narcotics from the NYPD property room at 400 Broome Street in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The total scope of the scandal is still not known and many questions linger on how exactly it happened.

In popular culture[edit]

  • In The Godfather movie, Sonny Corleone beat up Carlo on Pleasant Avenue.
  • In Carlito's Way the Purple Gang was referred to as the 'Pleasant Avenue Crew'.
  • In Analyze That Robert De Niro recalled growing up with the Purple Gang.
  • The Purple Gang was also the subject of books "The Pleasant Avenue Connection" (Harper & Row, 1976) and "Blue Domino" (Putnam, 1978).[3]

Footnotes[edit]

References[edit]