Born in Palermo, Sicily, Lanza immigrated to the United States and settled in New York working as a handler in Lower Manhattan's Fulton Fish Market. Lanza soon became involved in labor union activity and, by 1923, had become an organizer for the United Seafood Workers union (USW). It was during this time that Lanza had become involved in organized crime, eventually becoming a member of the Luciano (and later the Genovese) crime family. As head of the Local 359 USW, Lanza threatened wholesalers with delays in loading and unloading perishable goods resulting in profits of $20 million from the Fulton Fish Market alone. He is the father of Colombo crime family mob associate Harry Lanza born May 4, 1950 who lived in 2007 in Hyde Park, New York.
Although convicted of labor racketeering in 1938, Lanza became an important figure in safeguarding New York's waterfront during the early 1940s. Lanza personally advised the Office of Naval Intelligence working with local stevedores and fisherman in tracking submarines, resulting in obtaining key strategic positions in waterfront installations and effectively conduct counter-espionage activities for the Third Naval District.
Although Lanza had helped secure the New York waterfront, he was convicted of extortion the following year and sentenced from 7½ to 10 years imprisonment. Upon his release in 1950, Lanza resumed his leadership role in the Fulton Fish Market and, despite a 1957 arrest for parole violation; he maintained control of the area until his death on October 11, 1968.
- Block, Alan A. "A Modern Marriage of Convenience: Organized Crime and U.S. Intelligence," in Organized Crime: A Global Perspective, ed. Robert J. Kelly, 1986.
- Kelly, Robert J. Encyclopedia of Organized Crime in the United States. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000. ISBN 0-313-30653-2
- Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Da Capo Press, 2005. ISBN 0-8160-5694-3
- Joseph Lanza at FindAGrave.com