November 27, 1897|
Risigliano, Tufino, Province of Naples, Italy
|Died||February 14, 1969
Springfield, Missouri, U.S.
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Resting place||Saint John's Cemetery, Queens, New York City, New York|
|Occupation||Crime boss, mobster, bootlegger, businessman, drug trafficker, extortionist, racketeer|
|Known for||Boss of the Genovese crime family|
Vito "Don Vito" Genovese (November 27, 1897 – February 14, 1969) was an Italian-American mobster who rose to power during Prohibition as an enforcer in the American Mafia. A long time associate of Charles Luciano, Genovese took part in the Castellammarese War and helped shape the rise of the Mafia and organized crime in the United States. He would later lead Luciano's crime family for 12 years, which was renamed the Genovese crime family.
Genovese served as mentor to the future boss of the Genovese crime family Vincent "Chin" Gigante. He was known as Boss of all Bosses from 1957 to 1959 when he ruled the most powerful criminal organization in the country and maintained influence over others. Along with longtime associate Charles Luciano, he is deemed responsible for expanding the heroin trade to an international level. For a brief period during World War II, he supported Benito Mussolini's regime in Italy for fear of being deported back to the United States to face murder charges.
While he helped usher in a new era in organized crime in his earlier years, his tenure as boss led to several incidents that were detrimental to the American Mafia's power. He ordered several highly publicized murders and when he called a meeting with all the Mafia bosses in the country to consolidate his power, the meeting was raided by the police. He also scared underling Joe Valachi into becoming the first member of the American Mafia to publicly acknowledge its existence and testify as a government witness.
Vito Genovese was born on November 27, 1897, in Risigliano, a frazione in the commune of Tufino, near Naples, in Italy. His father was Felice Genovese and his mother Nunziata Genovese. Vito had two brothers, Michael and Carmine Genovese, who also belonged to Vito Genovese's crime family. Vito Genovese's cousin, Michael James Genovese, became boss of the Pittsburgh crime family.
According to mobster Joseph Valachi, Genovese was a murderer with his own set of rules:
"If you went to Vito and told him about some guy who was doing wrong, he would have this guy killed and then he would have you killed for telling on the guy."
As a child in Italy, Genovese completed school only to the American equivalent of the fifth grade. When Genovese was 15, his family emigrated to the United States and took up residence in Little Italy, Manhattan. Genovese started his criminal career stealing merchandise from pushcart vendors and running errands for mobsters. He later collected money from people who played illegal lotteries. One of Genovese's early friends was Lucky Luciano, later a major leader of the Cosa Nostra. At age 19, Genovese spent a year in prison for illegal possession of a firearm.
In the early 1920s, Genovese started working for Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria, the boss of a powerful Manhattan gang. Involved in bootlegging and extortion, Genovese's main value to Masseria was his propensity for violence. In 1930, Genovese was indicted on counterfeiting charges when police found $1 million of counterfeit U.S. currency in a Bath Beach, Brooklyn workshop.
In 1930, Genovese allegedly murdered Gaetano Reina, the leader of a Bronx-based gang. Reina had been a Masseria ally, but Masseria decided to kill Reina when he began to suspect Reina of secretly helping his arch-rival, Brooklyn gang leader Salvatore Maranzano. On February 26, 1930, Genovese ambushed Reina as he was leaving his mistress' house in the Bronx and shot him in the back of the head with a shotgun. Masseria then took direct control of the Reina gang.
In early 1931, the Castellammarese War broke out between Masseria and Maranzano. By April 1931, Luciano and Genovese were secretly conspiring with Maranzano to kill Masseria. On April 15, 1931, Genovese participated in Masseria's murder.
Luciano had lured Masseria to a meeting at a Coney Island, Brooklyn restaurant. During their meal, Luciano excused himself to go to the restroom. As soon as Luciano was gone, Genovese, Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis, and Bugsy Siegel rushed into the dining room and shot Masseria to death. The war ended and Maranzano was the winner.
No one was ever indicted in the Masseria murder. After Masseria's murder, Maranzano reorganized all the Sicilian and Italian gangs in New York into five crime families. Luciano took over Masseria's family, with Genovese as his underboss.
In September 1931, Luciano and Genovese planned the murder of Salvatore 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 Frank Costello to a meeting at his office, they knew Maranzano would kill them there. Instead, Luciano sent the hit squad to the office, where they shot Maranzano to death.
On March 16, 1932, Gerard Vernotico was found strangled to death on a Manhattan rooftop. On March 28, 1932, Genovese married Gerard's widow, Anna, who was also Genovese's cousin.
Boccia murder and exile to Italy
In 1934, Genovese allegedly killed mobster Ferdinand Boccia. Genovese and Boccia had conspired to cheat a wealthy gambler out of $150,000 in a high-stakes card game. After the game, Boccia demanded a share of $35,000 because he had introduced the victim to Genovese. Rather than pay Boccia anything, Genovese decided to murder him. On September 19, 1934, Genovese and five associates allegedly shot and killed Boccia in a coffee shop in Brooklyn.
On June 18, 1936, Luciano was sentenced to 30 to 50 years in state prison as a result of his conviction on pandering. With Luciano's imprisonment, Genovese became acting boss of the Luciano crime family.
On November 25, 1936, Genovese became a naturalized United States citizen in New York City. In 1937, fearing prosecution for the Boccia murder, Genovese fled to Italy with $750,000 cash and settled in the city of Nola, near Naples. With Genovese's departure, Frank Costello became the new Luciano family acting boss with Willie Moretti as acting underboss.
Genovese prospered in Italy, becoming a prominent Mafia leader there. Genovese also ran an enormous black market operation with Calogero Vizzini, a powerful Mafia boss in Sicily. After bribing some fascist party members, Genovese became a good friend of Galeazzo Ciano, Benito Mussolini's son-in-law; it is believed that Genovese provided Ciano with cocaine.
In 1943, Genovese allegedly ordered the murder of Carlo Tresca, the publisher of an anarchist newspaper in New York and an enemy of Mussolini. Genovese allegedly facilitated the murder as a favor to the Italian government. On January 11, 1943, a gunman shot and killed Tresca outside his newspaper office in Manhattan. The shooter was later alleged to be Carmine Galante, a member of the Bonanno family (eventually becoming acting boss). It was logical for him to work with the older and better-established Vito Genovese especially given their common enemy in La Cosa Nostra - Carlo Gambino). No one was ever charged in the Tresca murder.
Return to New York
When the Allies invaded Italy in September 1943, Genovese switched sides and quickly offered his services to the U.S. Army. Genovese was appointed to a position of interpreter/liaison officer in the U.S. Army headquarters in Naples and quickly became one of American Military Government of Occupied Territories' (AMGOT) most trusted employees.
In the summer of 1944 in New York, Genovese was implicated in the Boccia murder by mobster Ernest "The Hawk" Rupolo, a former Genovese associate. Facing a murder conviction, Rupolo had decided to become a government witness.
On August 27, 1944, U.S. military police arrested Genovese in Italy during an investigation into his running of a black market ring. It was revealed that Genovese had been stealing trucks, flour, and sugar from the Army. When Agent Orange C. Dickey of the Criminal Investigation Division examined Genovese's background, he discovered that Genovese was a fugitive wanted for the 1934 Boccia killing. However, there was seemingly little interest from the Army or the federal government in pursuing Genovese.
After months of frustration, Dickey was finally able to make preparations to ship Genovese back to New York to face trial, but came under increasing pressure. Genovese personally offered Dickey a $250,000 bribe to release him, then threatened Dickey when the offer was refused. Dickey was even instructed by his superiors in the military chain of command to refrain from pursuing Genovese, but refused to be dissuaded.
On June 2, 1945, after arriving in New York by ship the day before, Genovese was arraigned on murder charges for the 1934 Boccia killing. He pleaded not guilty. On June 10, 1946, another prosecution witness, Jerry Esposito, was found shot to death beside a road in Norwood, New Jersey. Earlier, another witness, Peter LaTempa, was found dead in a cell where he had been held in protective custody.
Without anyone to corroborate Rupolo's testimony, the government's case collapsed, and the charges against Genovese were dismissed on June 10, 1946. In making his decision, Judge Samuel Leibowitz commented:
Pursuit of power
With his release from custody in 1946, Genovese was able to rejoin the Luciano family in New York. However, neither Costello or Moretti was willing to give power back to him. In 1946, Meyer Lansky called a meeting of the heads of the major crime families in Havana that December. The ostensible reason was to see singer Frank Sinatra perform. However, the real reason was to discuss mob business with Luciano in attendance. The three topics to discuss: the heroin trade, Cuban gambling, and what to do about Siegel and the floundering Flamingo Hotel project in Las Vegas. The Conference took place at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba and lasted a little more than a week.
On December 20, during the conference, Luciano had a private meeting with Genovese in Luciano's hotel suite. Unlike Costello, Luciano had never trusted Genovese. In the meeting, Genovese tried to convince Luciano to become a titular boss of bosses and let Genovese run everything. Luciano calmly rejected Genovese's suggestion:
"There is no Boss of Bosses. I turned it down in front of everybody. If I ever change my mind, I will take the title. But it won't be up to you. Right now you work for me and I ain't in the mood to retire. Don't you ever let me hear this again, or I'll lose my temper."
Genovese was now a capo of his former Greenwich Village Crew. However, on October 4, 1951, Moretti was assassinated by order of the Mafia Commission; the mob bosses were unhappy with his testimony during the U.S. Senate Kefauver Hearings. Costello appointed Genovese as the new underboss.
In December 1952, Anna Genovese sued her husband for financial support, an unheard-of action by the wife of a Cosa Nostra figure. Two years earlier, she had moved out of the family home in New Jersey. In 1953, Genovese allegedly ordered the murder of mobster Steven Franse. Genovese had tasked Franse with supervising Anna Genovese while her husband was hiding in Italy. Outraged over Anna's love affairs and her lawsuit against him, Genovese blamed it all on Franse. Following Genovese's orders, two hitmen brutally beat Franse and then slowly strangled him.
During the mid-1950s, Genovese decided to move against Costello. However, Genovese needed to also remove Costello's strong ally on the Commission, Albert Anastasia, the feared boss of the Anastasia crime family. Genovese was soon conspiring with Carlo Gambino, Anastasia's underboss, to remove Anastasia.
In May 1957, Genovese ordered the Costello murder attempt. On May 2, as Costello was entering the lobby of his apartment building, mobster Vincent Gigante stepped out of a limousine, shot Costello once in the head, and then left the scene. Fortunately for Costello, he suffered only a superficial scalp wound. However, the experience convinced Costello to retire from the family. Genovese now became boss of what is known as the Genovese crime family and promoted his longtime lieutenant, Anthony Strollo, to underboss.
In late 1957, Genovese and Gambino allegedly ordered Anastasia's murder. Genovese had heard rumors that Costello was conspiring with Anastasia to regain power. On October 25, 1957, Anastasia arrived a Manhattan hotel barber shop for a haircut and shave. As Anastasia relaxed in the barber chair, two men with their faces covered in scarves shot and killed Anastasia. Witnesses were unable to identify any of the gunmen and competing theories exist today as to their identities.
The coup against Costello was supported by the two biggest earners in the family, Anthony Strollo and Anthony Carfano. Soon after Genovese became the godfather, he would allegedly arrange for these two caporegimes to be murdered. Genovese loyalists Philip Lombardo, Gerardo Catena and Mike Miranda would assume the top positions in the family by the early 1960s.
Apalachin and prison
In November 1957, immediately after the Anastasia murder Genovese called for a meeting of national Cosa Nostra leaders. Genovese wanted the commission leads to confirm him as his family's boss as well as to approve Carlo Gambino as boss of his family. Genovese set the meeting, known today as the Apalachin Conference, at the farm of mobster Joseph Barbara in the rural town of Apalachin, New York.
However, on November 14, a New York State Police trooper noticed the increased activity at the Barbara farm and called for reinforcements to surround it. When the attendees were alerted, they chaotically fled the location, some fleeing on foot into the woods. The police stopped Genovese as he was driving away from the farm. Genovese said he was just there for a barbecue and to discuss business with Barbara. The police let him go.
On June 2, 1958, Genovese testified under subpoena in the U.S. Senate McClellan Hearings on organized crime. Genovese refused to answer any questions, citing the Fifth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution 150 separate times. 
On July 7, 1958, Genovese was indicted on charges of conspiring to import and sell narcotics. The government's star witness was Nelson Cantellops, a Puerto Rican drug dealer who claimed Genovese met with him. 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. Several court observers and organized-crime experts suspected that Cantellops was lying. Like most crime bosses, Genovese placed layers of insulation between himself and his family's criminal enterprises. It would be significantly out of character for Genovese to be directly involved in any criminal operation, let alone a drug deal. Similar questions have been posed about Luciano's conviction in 1936 for being the mastermind of a prostitution ring.
Before he went to prison, Genovese created a ruling panel of high-level family members to supervise the family: Strollo, Catena, and Miranda. However, Genovese still retained ultimate control from prison.
In September 1959, Genovese allegedly ordered the murder of mobster Anthony Carfano. Angered at the murder attempt on Costello, Carfano had skipped the Apalachin meeting in protest. In response, Genovese decided to murder him. On September 25, 1959, Carfano and a female companion were found shot to death in his Cadillac automobile on a residential street in Jackson Heights, Queens.
In April 1962, Genovese allegedly ordered the murder of Anthony Strollo after concluding that Strollo was part of the plot that put him in prison. On April 8, Strollo left his house to go for a walk and was never seen again. His body was never recovered.
In 1962, an alleged murder threat from Genovese propelled mobster Joseph Valachi into the public spotlight. In June, Genovese supposedly accused Valachi, also imprisoned in Atlanta, of being an informer and gave Valachi the kiss of death. In July, Valachi supposedly mistook another inmate for a mob hitman and killed him. After receiving a life sentence for that murder, Valachi decided to become a government witness.
On August 24, 1964, Ernest Rupolo's body was recovered from Jamaica Bay, Queens. His killers had attached two concrete blocks to his legs and tied his hands. It was widely assumed that Genovese had ordered Rupolo's murder for testifying against him in the 1944 Boccia murder trial. Genovese had not ordered Rupolo killed immediately for turning on him, but instead forced him to live the last 20 years of his life in terror.
On February 14, 1969, Genovese died of a heart attack at the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. He is buried in Saint John Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens.
In popular culture
- Genovese is portrayed in the 2001 TV movie Boss of Bosses by Steven Bauer.
- Genovese is portrayed in the 1972 film The Valachi Papers by Lino Ventura.
- Genovese features in the sixth episode of UK history TV channel Yesterday's documentary series Mafia's Greatest Hits.
- Genovese is portrayed in the 2015 TV series The Making of the Mob: New York by Craig Thomas Rivela.
- DeVico, Peter J. "The Mafia Made Easy: The Anatomy and Culture of La Cosa Nostra". (p. 186).
- Grutzner, Charles (February 16, 1959). "Ruled 'Family' of 450. Genovese Dies in Prison at 71. 'Boss of Bosses' of Mafia Here". New York Times. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
Vito Genovese's throne, from which he ruled as "Boss of All Bosses" of the Mafia in the New York area, rested on the coffins of several predecessors -- in whose murders he is believed to have conspired. ...
- Bureau of Narcotics, Sam Giancana, The United States Treasury Department. Mafia: The Governments Secret File on Organized Crime. p. 307).
- IMBD: Vito Genovese at Internet Movie Database http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1507849/?ref_=nmbio_bio_nm
- Maas. p. 129. Missing or empty
- Philip Carlo The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer (pp. 68–69).
- "Prisoner's Story Breaks 4 Murders by Brooklyn Ring". New York Times. August 9, 1944. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
- Sifakis, Carl (2005). The Mafia encyclopedia (3. ed.). New York: Facts on File. p. 277. ISBN 0-8160-5694-3.
- 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.
- Cohen, Rich (1999). Tough Jews (1st Vintage Books ed.). New York: Vintage Books. pp. 65–66. ISBN 0-375-70547-3.
- Maas. p. 130. Missing or empty
- Abadinsky, Howard (2010). Organized crime (9th ed.). Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning. p. 97. ISBN 0-495-59966-2.
- Maas, Peter (2003). The Valachi papers (1st Perennial ed.). New York: Perennial. p. 130. ISBN 0-06-050742-X.
- "Fugitive Miranda Gives Up". New York Times. September 17, 1946. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- "AMG Aide in Italy Held in Murder Here.". New York Times. November 25, 1944. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- "Lucania Sentenced to 30 to 50 Years; Court Warns Ring". New York Times. June 19, 1936. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- Sifkakis. p. 186. Missing or empty
- The Mafia Restored: Fighters for Democracy in World War II, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, Alfred W. McCoy.
- "Assassin Slays Tresca, Radical, In Fifth Avenue". New York Times. January 12, 1943.
- Franks, Lucinda (February 20, 1977). "Obscure Gangster Emerging as Mafia Chief in New York". New York Times. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- Hunting Down Vito Genovese by Tim Newark, June 2007.
- Loftus, Joseph A. (July 3, 1958). "Genovese Invokes the Fifth 150 Times in Mafia Study". New York Times. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
- "Genovese Denies Guit.". New York Times. June 3, 1945. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- "Gang-Ride Victim Thrown in Brush". New York Times. June 9, 1946. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- "Genovese is Freed of Murder Charge". New York Times. June 11, 1946. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- Conklin, William R. (October 9, 1951). "Moretti is Buried in Gangster Style". New York Times. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
- "Wife Suing Genovese". New York Times. December 10, 1952. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
- Sifkakis. p. 172. Missing or empty
- "Costello is Shot Entering Home; Gunman Escapes". New York Times. May 3, 1957. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
- "Anastasia Slain in a Hotel Here; Led Murder, Inc.". New York Times. October 26, 1957.
- "Albert Anastasia". Biography.com. Retrieved 2011-12-31.
- Perlmutter, Emanuel (June 17, 1959). "Genovese Depicts Apalchin Visit". New York Times. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
- "U.S. July Indicts Genovese, Gigante, in Narcotics Plot". New York Times. July 8, 1958. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- Raab, Selwyn. The Five Families: The Rise, Decline & Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empire. New York: St. Martins Press, 2005.
- Feinberg, Alexander (April 18, 1959). "Genovese is Given 15 Years in Prison in Narcotics Case". New York Times. Retrieved 15 January 2012.
- Grutzner, Charles (August 24, 1963). "Pisano Witnesses Changing Stories". New York Times. Retrieved 24 January 2012.
- "Little Augie Pisano is Slain With Woman in Auto Here". New York Times. September 26, 1959. Retrieved 24 January 2012.
- Sifkakis. p. 38. Missing or empty
- Rudolf, Robert (1993). Mafia Wiseguys: The Mob That Took on the Feds. New York: SPI Books. p. 41. ISBN 978-1-56171-195-6.
- Dietche, Scott M. (2009). The Everything Mafia Book: True-life accounts of legendary figures, infamous crime families, and nefarious deeds. Avon, Massachusetts: Adams Media. pp. 188–189. ISBN 978-1-59869-779-7.
- Litchtenstein, Grace (April 4, 1971). "Held Nation in Thrall". New York Times. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
- "Body of Informer, Tied to Concrete, Pulled from Bay". New York Times. August 25, 1964. Retrieved 14 January 2012.
- "Vito Genovese" Find A Grave.
- "Boss of Bosses". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 16 January 2012.
- "The Valachi Papers". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 16 January 2012.
|Genovese crime family
Frank "Chee" Gusage
|Genovese crime family
|Genovese crime family
Gerardo "Gerry" Catena
|Genovese crime family
Philip "Benny Squint" Lombardo
|Capo di tutti capi
Boss of bosses
as chairman of the commission