Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Bonanno Family

The Cigar

Carmine Galante, young
Carmine 'Lilo' Galante, young

Carmine "Lilo" Galante's image of himself might have surpassed even Joe Bonanno's.   Of course, Galante was Bonanno's driver and later his underboss, so he probably heard a lot of self-aggrandizement from the boss, and the attitude apparently rubbed off.  But while Bonanno at least publicly tried to take the high road, claiming to be the last "man of honor" in La Cosa Nostra in America, Galante had no problem getting down and dirty, and he seldom lost a fight. 

Vito Genovese, younger
Vito Genovese, younger

Galante started his criminal career with a bang as a shooter for Vito Genovese, having murdered, among others, Italian journalist and Mussolini critic Carlo Tresca in 1943 on orders from Genovese as a favor to "Il Duce."  Galante eventually found a place within the ranks of the Bonanno family.  He was the kind of aggressive gangster Joe Bonanno needed to break into new rackets in new territories.  In 1953 Bonanno put Galante in charge of his Montreal operations where Galante became a top earner for the family, extorting money from other criminals.  According to journalist Jerry Capeci, being in Montreal at this time put Galante "right in the center of a main transit point for the so-called French Connection."  Galante, who earned the nickname "the Cigar" because he was rarely seen without one in his mouth, got involved in heroin trafficking in a big way despite Joe Bonanno's proclamations that his family had nothing to do with narcotics.  In 1962, Galante, now the underboss of the family, was convicted on narcotics charges and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

But prison walls did not stop Galante from planning his come-back.  His mad-dog ways were well known.  In 1931 doctors at Sing Sing Prison had tested him and categorized him as a  "psychopath" while he was serving a stint there, and over the years he more than lived up to that diagnosis.   It was no wonder that no one within the Bonanno family-or in any of the other crime families for that matter- looked forward to Galante's eventual release.

Carlo Gambino
Carlo Gambino

Galante had several axes to grind.  He felt that he could be a better boss than Bonanno had been.   He also despised the Commission members who had forced Joe Bonanno to step down, and Carlo Gambino became the focus of his anger.  According to The Mafia Encyclopedia, Galante bragged to other inmates at Lewisburg Prison in Pennsylvania that when he got out, he would "'make Carlo Gambino shit in the middle of Times Square.'"

Carmine Galante
Carmine Galante

In 1974 Galante was released from prison after serving 12 years.  Despite all his tough talk, he didn't make a move on the ailing Gambino who had a reputation for thinking three steps ahead and outmaneuvering his opponents.  Galante did manage to bully Rusty Rastelli into turning over the leadership of the Bonanno family to him.   Galante increased the family's involvement in the drug trade, making Montreal their main pipeline for heroin from France.  The French Connection flow gushed, and Galante and his associates made millions.

Federal agents arrested Galante in 1978 on a parole violation-associating with known criminals-which tied him up in court, but his attorney Roy Cohn ultimately secured his freedom.  By this time Carlo Gambino had passed away, and Galante saw no major obstacles in his way in his quest for total domination of the American Mafia.  Drugs were the key to his power because they produced the largest and fastest profits, and he set about to take control of other families' narcotics operations.  Eight Genovese Family members involved in the drug trade were gunned down on Galante's orders, and it was clear that the violence wouldn't stop until all mob drug operations were under his thumb.

Santo Trafficante
Santo Trafficante

The other mob bosses felt that Galante was out of line and had to be stopped.  At a secret meeting in Boca Raton, Florida, high-ranking representatives from the four other New York families met with Florida boss Santo Trafficante to decide what they would do about Galante.  The answer was obvious-he had to go.  Mob bosses from all around the country were consulted, including Rusty Rastelli who was in prison and even Joe Bonanno.  They all agreed that for the good of La Cosa Nostra, Galante had to die.

Carmine Galante's body removed, restaurant
Carmine Galante's body removed, restaurant

On July 12, 1979, Galante paid a visit to his favorite restaurant, Joe and Mary's in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn.  One of his cousins owned the restaurant, and it was one of the few places where Galante felt he could relax.  Galante and a few of his associates took seats in the open-air courtyard behind the restaurant and enjoyed their meal.  After the entrée, a couple of the men excused themselves to go make phone calls.   Galante pulled out a fresh cigar and stuck it in his mouth.  But before he could get it lit, three masked men rushed into the courtyard from inside the restaurant, one of them carrying a shotgun.  The man quickly squared off and a fired both barrels in Galante's chest.  The blasts knocked the boss off his chair.  He died at the scene, crumpled on the concrete pavement, his blood streaming into a nearby drain, the cigar still in his mouth.

 

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