Joseph Valachi

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Joe Valachi
Joe Valachi.jpg
Born (1904-09-22)September 22, 1904
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died April 3, 1971(1971-04-03) (aged 67)
El Paso, Texas, USA
Other names "Anthony Sorge", "Charles Charbano", "Joe Cargo"
Known for First Mafia member to publicly acknowledge the existence of the Mafia
Valachi hearings

Joseph Michael "Joe Cargo" Valachi (September 22, 1904 – April 3, 1971), Italian American, also known as "Charles Charbano" and "Anthony Sorge", was the first Mafia member to publicly acknowledge the existence of the Mafia.

He is also the person who made Cosa Nostra (meaning "Our Thing") a household name.[1][needs update]


Joseph Valachi was born in the East Harlem section of New York City on September 22, 1904.[2] He came from an impoverished Italian immigrant family with a drunken, violent father. Valachi later blamed his background for his turn to organized crime.[2][3]

Valachi's criminal career began with a small gang known as "The Minutemen," so-called for carrying out smash and grab burglaries and escaping within a minute. Valachi was the driver for this band, and his ability to make a quick getaway earned him a reputation as a rising star in the underworld.[4]

In 1921, Valachi was arrested on grand larceny charges. In 1923, Valachi was arrested in the aftermath of a botched robbery; he subsequently pleaded guilty to attempted burglary and was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment.[4] He was released after nine months and, having been replaced with a new driver, created a new burglary gang.[5]

In the early 1930s, through mob contact Dominick "The Gap" Petrilli, Valachi was introduced to the Cosa Nostra or Mafia, and soon became a soldier in the Reina Family (now known as the Lucchese Family) during the height of the Castellammarese War. Valachi fought on the side of Salvatore Maranzano, which eventually defeated the faction headed by rival Joe Masseria. After Masseria's murder, Valachi became a bodyguard for Maranzano. However, this position was short-lived, as Maranzano himself was murdered in 1931. Valachi then became a soldier in the family headed by Lucky Luciano (eventually known as the Genovese Family), in the crew headed by Anthony "Tony Bender" Strollo. Valachi remained in this position until he was convicted of narcotics violations in 1959 and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Personal life[edit]

He became the son-in-law of Gaetano Reina after marrying Reina's oldest daughter Carmela, in July 1932, over the objections of her mother, brother, and uncles.[citation needed]

Federal testimony[edit]

In October 1963, Valachi testified before Arkansas Senator John L. McClellan's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the U.S. Senate Committee on Government Operations that the Mafia did exist.[6][needs update][7][needs update]

Valachi's motivations for becoming an informer have been the subject of some debate. Valachi claimed to be testifying as a public service and to expose a powerful criminal organization that he blamed for ruining his life, but it is also possible he was hoping for government protection as part of a plea bargain in which he was sentenced to life imprisonment and avoiding the death penalty for a murder which he had committed in prison.

While in prison, Valachi feared that mob boss and fellow prisoner Vito Genovese had ordered his death as a traitor. (Valachi and Genovese were both serving sentences for heroin trafficking.[8]) On June 22, 1962, using a pipe left near some construction work, Valachi bludgeoned to death an inmate whom he mistook for Joseph DiPalermo, a Mafia member he believed was commissioned to kill him. After time with FBI handlers, Valachi came forward with a story of Genovese giving him a kiss on the cheek, which he took as a "kiss of death".

When Joseph Valachi decided to cooperate with the Justice Department, attorney William G. Hundley became the mobster's protector. "We'd put dark glasses and wigs on him and take him to the Roma restaurant. He was a hell of a guy. . . . My days with Valachi convinced me that the Cosa Nostra was the most overrated thing since the Communist Party."[9]

Although Valachi's disclosures never led directly to the prosecution of many Mafia leaders, he was able to provide many details of its history, operations and rituals, aiding in the solution of several unsolved murders, as well as naming many members and the major crime families. His testimony, which was broadcast on radio and television and published in newspapers, was devastating for the mob, still reeling from the November 14, 1957 Apalachin Meeting, where state police had accidentally discovered several Mafia bosses from all over the United States meeting at the Apalachin home of mobster Joseph Barbara. Following Valachi's testimony, the mob was no longer invisible to the public.

After the U.S. Department of Justice first encouraged and then blocked publication of Valachi's memoirs, a biography heavily influenced by those memoirs and by interviews with Valachi was written by journalist Peter Maas and published in 1968 as The Valachi Papers,[10] forming the basis for a later movie of the same title starring Charles Bronson in the titular role.

Death and legacy[edit]

On April 3, 1971, Valachi died of a heart attack at Federal Correctional Institution, La Tuna in Texas.[11] The $100,000 bounty, placed on Valachi by Genovese, went uncollected.[citation needed]

In his director's commentary on The Godfather Part II (1974), Francis Ford Coppola mentioned that the scenes depicting the Senate committee interrogation of Michael Corleone and Frank Pentangeli are based on the Valachi Federal hearings, and Frank Pentangeli is a sort of Valachi figure.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Their Thing, Time, August 16, 1963". Retrieved 2014-08-14. [dead link]
  2. ^ a b Maas, Peter (1986). The Valachi Papers. New York: Pocket Books. pp. 35–36. ISBN 0-671-63173-X. 
  3. ^ Maas, p. 16
  4. ^ a b Maas, pp. 38-42
  5. ^ Maas, pp. 42-43
  6. ^ Killers in Prison, Time, October 4, 1963[dead link]
  7. ^ "The Smell of It", Time, October 11, 1963[dead link]
  8. ^ Jerry Capeci. (2002) "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia", Alpha Books. p. 200. ISBN 0-02-864225-2
  9. ^ Adam Bernstein (June 14, 2006). "Lawyer William G. Hundley, 80". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 21, 2015. 
  10. ^ His Life and Crimes, Time, January 17, 1969[dead link]
  11. ^ "Mobster". Independent Press-Telegram. Long Beach, California. April 4, 1971. p. 2. Retrieved October 8, 2016 – via (registration required (help)). 
  12. ^ "Director commentary". The Godfather Part II,. 1974. ASIN B00003CXAA. 

External links[edit]