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Frank Costello

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Frank Costello
Costello testifying before the Kefauver Committee
Francesco Castiglia

(1891-01-26)January 26, 1891
DiedFebruary 18, 1973(1973-02-18) (aged 82)
Resting placeSaint Michael's Cemetery
PredecessorLucky Luciano
SuccessorVito Genovese
Lauretta Geigerman
(m. 1918)
AllegianceLuciano crime family
Conviction(s)Contempt (1951)
Tax evasion (1952)
Criminal penalty18 months' imprisonment
Five years' imprisonment

Frank Costello (Italian: [koˈstɛllo]; born Francesco Castiglia[1] [franˈtʃesko kaˈstiʎʎa]; January 26, 1891 – February 18, 1973) was an Italian-American crime boss of the Luciano crime family.

Born in Italy, he moved with his family to the United States as a child. As a youth he joined New York City gangs. Working with Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, Costello was involved in bootlegging operations during Prohibition. In 1929 they joined the National Crime Syndicate. From 1937, Costello was acting boss of the Luciano crime family. In the 1950s, he spent several years in prison for tax evasion. Costello retired in 1957 after he had survived an assassination attempt ordered by Vito Genovese.

Early life[edit]

Costello was born Francesco Castiglia on January 26, 1891, in Lauropoli, a frazione of the town of Cassano allo Ionio in the province of Cosenza in the Calabria region, Italy.[1] In 1895, he boarded a ship to the United States with his mother and his brother Edward to join their father, who had moved to New York City's East Harlem several years earlier and opened a small neighborhood Italian grocery store.

While Costello was still a boy, his brother introduced him to gang activities. At 13, he had become a member of a local gang and started using the name Frankie. Costello committed petty crimes and went to jail for assault and robbery in 1908, 1912, and 1917. In 1918, he married Lauretta Geigerman, a Jewish woman who was the sister of a close friend. That same year, Costello served ten months in jail for carrying a concealed weapon.

Criminal career[edit]

Alliance with Luciano[edit]

Charles "Lucky" Luciano's mugshot

While working for the Morello gang, Costello met Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, the Sicilian leader of Manhattan's Lower East Side gang. The two Italians immediately became friends and partners. Several older members of Luciano's mob family disapproved of this growing partnership. They were mostly old-school mafiosi who were unwilling to work with anyone who was not Italian, and skeptical at best about working with non-Sicilians. To Luciano's shock, they warned him against working with Costello, whom they called "the dirty Calabrian."[2]

Along with Italian American associates Vito Genovese and Tommy "Three-Finger Brown" Lucchese, and Jewish associates Meyer Lansky and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, the gang became involved in robbery, theft, extortion, gambling and narcotics. The Luciano-Costello-Lansky-Siegel alliance prospered even further with the passage of Prohibition in 1920. The gang went into bootlegging, backed by criminal financier Arnold "the Brain" Rothstein.[3][4]

The young Italians' success let them make business deals with the leading Jewish and Irish criminals of the era, including Dutch Schultz, Owney "the Killer" Madden and William "Big Bill" Dwyer. Rothstein became a mentor to Costello, Luciano, Lansky and Siegel while they conducted bootlegging business with Bronx beer baron Schultz. In 1922, Costello, Luciano, and their closest Italian associates joined the Sicilian crime family led by Joe "the Boss" Masseria, a top Italian underworld crime boss. By 1924, Costello had become a close associate of Hell's Kitchen's Irish crime bosses Dwyer and Madden. He became involved in their rum-running operations, known as "The Combine"; this might have prompted him to change his last name to the Irish "Costello."

In 1925, Costello became a U.S. citizen.[5]

On November 19, 1926, Costello and Dwyer were indicted on federal bootlegging charges. They were accused of bribing two U.S. Coast Guardsmen, presumably so that they would not disturb the unloading of liquor from boats in New York Harbor. The largest boat in the Combine fleet could carry 20,000 cases of liquor.[6] In January 1927, the jury deadlocked on the bootlegging charges for Dwyer and Costello.[7]

In 1926, Dwyer was convicted of bribing a Coast Guard official and sentenced to two years in jail. After Dwyer was imprisoned, Costello and Madden took over the Combine's operations. This caused friction between Madden and a top Dwyer lieutenant, Charles "Vannie" Higgins, who believed he should have been running the Combine instead of Costello. Thus, the "Manhattan Beer Wars" began between Higgins on one side, and Costello, Madden, and Schultz on the other. At this time, Schultz was also having problems with gangsters Jack "Legs" Diamond and Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll, who had begun to rival Schultz and his partners with Higgins's help. Eventually, the Costello-Madden-Schultz alliance was destroyed by New York's underworld.

In the late 1920s, Johnny Torrio helped to organize a loose cartel of East Coast bootleggers, the Big Seven, in which a number of prominent gangsters, including Costello, Luciano, Longy Zwillman, Joe Adonis, and Meyer Lansky played a part. Torrio also supported creation of a national body that would prevent the sort of all-out turf wars between gangs that had broken out in Chicago and New York. His idea was well received,[8] and a conference was hosted in Atlantic City by Torrio, Lansky, Luciano and Costello in May 1929; the National Crime Syndicate was created.[9]

Castellammarese War[edit]

In early 1931, the Castellammarese War broke out between Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. In a secret deal with Maranzano, Luciano agreed to engineer the death of his boss, Masseria, in return for receiving Masseria's rackets and becoming Maranzano's second-in-command.[3] On April 15, 1931, Luciano had lured Masseria to a meeting where he was murdered at a restaurant called Nuova Villa Tammaro on Coney Island.[10][3] While they played cards, Luciano allegedly excused himself to the bathroom, with the gunmen reportedly being Genovese, Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis, and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel;[11] Ciro "The Artichoke King" Terranova drove the getaway car, but legend has it that he was too shaken up to drive away and had to be shoved out of the driver's seat by Siegel.[12][13][14] Luciano took over Masseria's family, with Genovese as his underboss.

In September 1931, Luciano and Genovese planned the murder of Maranzano. Luciano had received word that Maranzano was planning to kill him and Genovese, and prepared a hit team to kill Maranzano first. On September 10, 1931, when Maranzano summoned Luciano, Genovese, and Costello to a meeting at his office, they knew Maranzano would kill them there. Instead, Luciano sent to Maranzano's office four Jewish gangsters whose faces were unknown to Maranzano's people. They had been secured with the aid of Lansky and Siegel.[15][16] After assassinating Maranzano, Luciano subsequently created The Commission to serve as the governing body for organized crime.[17]

Years as consigliere[edit]

In 1931, after the Masseria and Maranzano murders, Luciano became the leader of the new Luciano crime family, with Genovese as underboss and Costello as consigliere. Costello quickly became one of the biggest earners for the Luciano family and began to carve his own niche in the underworld. He controlled the slot machine and bookmaking operations for the family with associate Philip "Dandy Phil" Kastel. Costello placed approximately 25,000 slot machines in bars, restaurants, cafes, drugstores, gas stations, and bus stops throughout New York. In 1934, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia confiscated thousands of Costello's slot machines, loaded them on a barge, and dumped them into the river.

Costello's next move was to accept Louisiana governor Huey Long's proposal to put slot machines throughout Louisiana for 10% of the take. Costello made Kastel overseer of the Louisiana slot operation. Kastel had the assistance of New Orleans mafioso Carlos "Little Man" Marcello. Costello brought in millions of dollars in profit from slot machines and bookmaking to the Luciano family.

"The Prime Minister"[edit]

Costello and Luciano established extensive connections with Tammany Hall leaders early on; Luciano and Costello each shared hotel rooms with Tammany delegates to the 1932 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.[18] Costello continued to cultivate those relationships over the next two decades, intervening in Tammany's affairs and collecting favors and pledges of loyalty from those politicians and judges he had helped, including William O'Dwyer, the two-term Mayor of New York City in the 1940s.[19] Costello was able, in turn, to use those political debts to his advantage when other New York City crime families came to him for help.

The 1951 Kefauver Committee hearings on organized crime confirmed what observers of local politics already knew. Senator Kefauver concluded that Carmine DeSapio, leader of Tammany Hall, was assisting Costello and that Costello had become influential in decisions made by the Tammany Hall council. DeSapio admitted to having met Costello several times, but insisted that "politics was never discussed".[20]

Conflicts with Genovese[edit]

In 1936, Luciano was convicted of running a prostitution ring and was sentenced to a term of up to 30 to 50 years in state prison.[21][22] He attempted to run the crime family from prison with the help of Costello and Lansky, but found it too difficult. With Luciano's imprisonment, Genovese became acting boss of the Luciano crime family.[23]

In 1937, Genovese fled to Italy to avoid prosecution for a 1934 murder.[24] Luciano then appointed Costello as acting boss. Costello's underboss was his cousin Willie Moretti.

Genovese returned to the United States in 1945. After the 1934 murder charges were dismissed following the death of two witnesses[25] Genovese tried to convince Luciano to become a titular boss of bosses and let Genovese run everything. Luciano not only rejected Genovese's proposal, but kept Costello and Moretti as acting boss and underboss.

Investigation, prosecution and imprisonment[edit]

From May 1950 to May 1951, the U.S. Senate conducted a large-scale investigation of organized crime, commonly known as the Kefauver Hearings, chaired by Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. Costello attempted to minimize the impact of these hearings on his reputation when he was called as a witness, refusing to allow his face to be filmed during his questioning.[26]

His demands had the opposite effect, as the news cameras focused instead on his hands as Costello fidgeted throughout the hearings, broadcasting his evasive answers and nervous gestures live to a huge nationwide audience. After sparring with the lawyers for the Committee for hours on the first day, he walked out of the hearing on the second day, claiming that he had a sore throat. When he returned to be questioned several days later he refused to answer questions about his net worth. Costello was eventually convicted of contempt of the Senate and sentenced to 18 months in prison for his refusal to answer questions.[5]

The Kefauver hearings also led to the murder of Willie Moretti on October 4, 1951, on the orders of the Mafia Commission. The members of the Commission were concerned with Moretti's erratic behavior before the Senate Committee and worried that Moretti's advancing syphilis was affecting his brain and might lead him to talk to the press.[27] Costello appointed Genovese as the new underboss after Moretti's murder.[28]

In 1952, the government began proceedings to strip Costello of his U.S. citizenship, and he was indicted for evasion of $73,417 in income taxes between 1946 and 1949 ($870,113 in 2024 dollars). He was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $20,000.[5] In 1954, Costello appealed the conviction and was released on $50,000 bail; from 1952 to 1961 he was in and out of half a dozen federal and local prisons and jails, his confinement interrupted by periods when he was out on bail pending determination of appeals.[29][5]

Assassination attempt and aftermath[edit]

Vito Genovese's mugshot

In 1956, Adonis, a powerful Costello ally, chose deportation to Italy over a long prison sentence. His departure left Costello weakened, but Genovese still had to neutralize one more powerful Costello ally, Anastasia, who had taken over the Mangano crime family after the disappearance of boss Vincent Mangano and the murder of his brother Philip Mangano on April 14, 1951.[30]

In early 1957, Genovese decided to move on Costello. Genovese ordered Vincent Gigante to murder Costello, and on May 2, 1957, Gigante shot and wounded Costello outside his apartment building.[31] The altercation persuaded Costello to relinquish power to Genovese and retire. Genovese then controlled what is now called the Genovese crime family. A doorman identified Gigante as the gunman, but in 1958 Costello testified that he was unable to recognize his assailant; Gigante was acquitted of attempted murder.[32]

On October 25, 1957, Anastasia was murdered at the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel at 56th Street and 7th Avenue in Manhattan.[33] Carlo Gambino was expected to be proclaimed boss of Anastasia's family at the November 14, 1957 Apalachin Meeting that Genovese called to discuss the future of Cosa Nostra in light of his takeover.[34] When police raided the meeting, to the detriment of Genovese's reputation, Gambino's appointment was postponed to a later meeting in New York City.[35]

In 1959, Genovese was convicted of selling a large quantity of heroin. On April 17, 1959, Genovese was sentenced to 15 years in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia.[36]

Retirement and death[edit]

Costello, 1964

During his retirement, Costello was still known as "The Prime Minister of the Underworld". He still retained power and influence in New York's Mafia and remained busy throughout his final years.[5] Cosa Nostra bosses and old associates such as Gambino and Lucchese still paid visits to Costello at his Waldorf Astoria penthouse, seeking advice on important Mafia affairs. Costello's old friend Meyer Lansky also kept in touch. Costello occupied himself with gardening and displayed some of his flowers at local horticultural shows.

On February 20, 1961, the United States Supreme Court upheld a lower court order that stripped Costello of his US citizenship.[37] But on February 17, 1964, the same court set aside a deportation order for Costello, citing a legal technicality.[38]

In early February 1973, Costello suffered a heart attack at his Manhattan home and was rushed to Doctors Hospital in Manhattan, where he died on February 18.[5] Costello's sedate memorial service at a Manhattan funeral home was attended by 50 relatives, friends, and law enforcement agents.[39] Costello is interred in a private mausoleum in St. Michael's Cemetery in East Elmhurst, Queens. In 1974, after his enemy Carmine Galante was released from prison, he allegedly ordered the bombing of the doors to Costello's mausoleum.[40]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ a b David Lane (2010). Into the Heart of the Mafia: A Journey Through the Italian South. Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 978-1847651990.
  2. ^ Sifakis, Carl (1987). The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York City: Facts on File. ISBN 0-8160-1856-1.
  3. ^ a b c The Five Families. MacMillan. 13 May 2014. ISBN 9781429907989. Retrieved 2008-06-22.
  4. ^ Stolberg, p. 119
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Frank Costello Dies of Coronary at 82; Underworld Leader" (PDF). New York Times. February 19, 1973. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
  6. ^ "33 MEN ARE INDICATED AS RUM IMPORT RING". New York Times. November 19, 1926. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  7. ^ "COSTELLO JURORS CLEAR 8, SPLIT ON 6 IN LIQUOR RING TRIAL". New York Times. January 21, 1927. Retrieved 18 October 2014.
  8. ^ Howard Abadinsky, Organized Crime, Cengage Learning, 2009, p.115
  9. ^ "80 years ago, the Mob came to Atlantic City for a little strategic planning". Press of Atlantic City. 13 May 2009. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  10. ^ "Racket Chief Slain By Gangster Gunfire. Giuseppe Masseria, Known as Joe the Boss, Shot Mysteriously in Coney Island Cafe. Police Say He Was Leader in Every Kind of Racket. He Escaped Death Many Times. Shooting Still a Mystery" (PDF). New York Times. April 16, 1931. Retrieved November 23, 2011. It took ten years and a lot of shooting to kill Giuseppe Masseria—he was Joe the Boss to the underworld—but his enemies found him with his back turned yesterday in a little Italian restaurant in Coney Island, and when they walked out into
  11. ^ Pollak, Michael (June 29, 2012). "Coney Island's Big Hit". The New York Times. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  12. ^ Sifakis 2005, pp. 87–88
  13. ^ Martin A. Gosch; Richard Hammer; Lucky Luciano (1975). The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano. Little, Brown. pp. 130–132. ISBN 978-0-316-32140-2.
  14. ^ Davis, John H. (1994). Mafia dynasty : the rise and fall of the Gambino crime family (1st Harper paperbacks ed.). New York, N.Y.: HarperPaperbacks. p. 40. ISBN 0-06-109184-7. Albert Anastasia.
  15. ^ "Lucky Luciano: Criminal Mastermind," Time, Dec. 7, 1998
  16. ^ Cohen, Rich (1999). Tough Jews (1st Vintage Books ed.). New York: Vintage Books. pp. 65–66. ISBN 0-375-70547-3. Genovese maranzano.
  17. ^ "The Commission's Origins". The New York Times. 1986. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  18. ^ "Corruption for decades: That time when the Mafia almost fixed the Democratic National Convention". Salon. 26 July 2016. Retrieved February 14, 2024.
  19. ^ Raab, Selwyn. (2006). Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. St. Martin's Press. pp. 63–65. ISBN 0-312-30094-8.
  20. ^ Kandell, Jonathan (July 28, 2004). "Carmine De Sapio, Political Kingmaker and Last Tammany Hall Boss, Dies at 95". The New York Times. Retrieved February 17, 2014.
  21. ^ "Luciano Trial Website". Archived from the original on January 31, 2009.
  22. ^ "Lucania Sentenced to 30 to 50 Years; Court Warns Ring" (PDF). The New York Times. June 19, 1936. Retrieved June 17, 2012.
  23. ^ "Lucania Sentenced to 30 to 50 Years; Court Warns Ring" (PDF). New York Times. June 19, 1936. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
  24. ^ Sifakis, Carl (2005). The Mafia encyclopedia (3. ed.). New York: Facts on File. p. 277. ISBN 0-8160-5694-3.
  25. ^ "Gang-Ride Victim Thrown in Brush" (PDF). New York Times. June 9, 1946. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
  26. ^ "ENCOUNTER: FRANK COSTELLO VS. ESTES KEFAUVER When a mobster tried to hide on live TV, his fingers did the talking". History.net. 14 November 2016. Retrieved February 13, 2024.
  27. ^ Joe Bonanno with Sergio Lalli (1983). A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno. St Martin's Paperbacks. p. 172. ISBN 0-312-97923-1.
  28. ^ Conklin, William R. (October 9, 1951). "Moretti is Buried in Gangster Style" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  29. ^ "Costello Is Released in $50,000 Bail". The New York Times. June 20, 1954.
  30. ^ "Aide of Joe Adonis is Found Shot Dead" (PDF). New York Times. April 20, 1951. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  31. ^ "Costello is Shot Entering Home; Gunman Escapes Wound" (PDF). New York Times. May 3, 1957. Retrieved 31 December 2011.
  32. ^ Vincent Gigante, Mob Boss Who Feigned Incompetence to Avoid Jail, Dies at 77, by Selwyn Raab, The New York Times, December 19, 2005
  33. ^ "Anastasia Slain in a Hotel Here: Led Murder, Inc" (PDF). New York Times. October 26, 1957. Retrieved 24 June 2012. Death took The Executioner yesterday. Umberto (called Albert) Anastasia, master killer for Murder, Inc., a homicidal gangster troop that plagued the city from 1931 to 1940, was murdered by two gunmen. ...
  34. ^ Davis 1994, pp. 83–84
  35. ^ Davis 1994, pp. 88–90
  36. ^ Feinberg, Alexander (April 18, 1959). "Genovese is Given 15 Years in Prison in Narcotics Case" (PDF). New York Times. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
  37. ^ "Costello Loses Citizenship Plea". New York Times. February 21, 1961.
  38. ^ "Court Sets Aside Order For Costello Deportation" (PDF). The New York Times. February 18, 1964. Retrieved 19 October 2014.
  39. ^ "Costello Buried After Brief Rites" (PDF). New York Times. February 22, 1973. Retrieved 27 June 2012.
  40. ^ Steven Chermak; Frankie Y. Bailey (2016). Crimes of the Century. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781610695947.


External links[edit]

American Mafia
Preceded by
Genovese crime family

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Preceded by Genovese crime family
Acting boss

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as boss
Preceded by Genovese crime family

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Preceded byas boss of bosses Capo di tutti capi
Chairman of the Commission

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