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Born in 1934, DeFede grew up in the Queens borough of New York City. In his early days, he operated a hot dog vendor truck in Coney Island, Brooklyn, running numbers rackets on the side. A close friend and handball partner of Lucchese leader Vittorio "Vic" Amuso, DeFede was inducted into the family in 1986 after Amuso became boss. DeFede's rise and fall in the New York mob can all be attributed to Amuso. DeFede drove a Cadillac and owned three race horses that he stabled at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. DeFede was married twice, and is currently wed to his second wife Nancy who entered the Witness Protection Program with him. The couple receive an annual income of $30,000 a year from Nancy's pension and a modest annuity provided by the U.S. Marshals Service.
In 1994, Amuso was convicted of federal racketeering and murder charges and sent to prison for life. Amuso then named DeFede his acting boss to replace Alphonse D'Arco with an weaker and more controllable man at the top, after D'Arco turned rat after botching several hits.
On April 28, 1998, DeFede was indicted on nine counts of racketeering stemming from his supervision of the family rackets in New York's Garment District from 1991 to 1996. The prosecution reported that the Lucchese family had been grossing $40,000 per month from Garment District businesses since the mid-1980s. In December 1998, DeFede pleaded guilty to the charges and received five years in prison. He was released in 2002.
During the late 90's, Amuso's relationship with DeFede began to sour. Suspecting that DeFede was hiding money from the family, Amuso replaced him as acting boss with Steven Crea, head of the family's powerful Bronx faction. Once Crea took over, family profits rose enormously. That was enough to convince Amuso that DeFede had been skimming profits; Amuso reportedly decided to have him murdered.
On February 5, 2002, DeFede was released from a Lexington, Kentucky prison medical center. Having heard of Amuso's plans to kill him, DeFede immediately became a government informant. DeFede explained the Garment District rackets and the protection rackets in Howard Beach, Queens. He also provided information leading to the convictions of Crea, Louis Daidone, Dominic Truscello, Joseph Tangorra, Anthony Baratta, and a number of family captains, soldiers and associates. While testifying against Gambino crime family boss Peter Gotti, DeFede exclaimed that all he made during his reign as acting boss was $1,014,000, or approximately $250,000 per year. DeFede also estimated that a low ranking family soldier would make on average $50,000 per year.
DeFede entered and left the federal Witness Protection Program. He now lives in Florida under an assumed name. He and his wife reportedly live on $30,000 a year, their assets having been depleted by legal bills and the cost of creating new identities. On July 15, 2012 DeFede died from a heart attack.
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- Capeci, Jerry (2012-11-29). "Heart Attack Fells Joe Defede; Turncoat Luchese Acting Boss". Gang Land News. Retrieved 2012-11-29.
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- Fitch, Robert. Solidarity For Sale: How Corruption Destroyed the Labor Movement and Undermined America's Promise. New York: PublicAffairs, 2006. ISBN 1-891620-72-X
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- New York Times: Ex-Crime Boss Testifies In Gotti Trial by William Glaberson
- New York Times: Former Crime Boss Testifies by Benjamin Weiser
- New York Times: Guilty Plea In Mafia Case by Benjamin Weiser
- New York Times: Reputed Crime Boss Enters a Guilty Plea
- New York Times: After Mob, Joe DeFede, Ex-Crime Boss, Is Scraping By
- New York Daily News: Little Joe Sings About Shakedowns by Robert Gearty (October 30, 2002)