Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Colombo Family

Junior's War

The Colombo Family fell into chaos when the aging and ailing Thomas DiBella voluntarily stepped down as boss.  His logical successor was the familys most powerful capo, Carmine Junior Persico, but Persico had faced a relentless onslaught of prosecutions that sent him to prison for ten of the 13 years prior to 1985, according to Carl Sifakis in The Mafia Encyclopedia.  Still, he managed to maintain his position as boss while incarcerated, empowering his brother Alphonse and Gennaro Jerry Lang Langella to carry out his orders.  During this period, the family concentrated their efforts on narcotics and labor racketeering. 

But as the government stepped up its campaign to stamp out organized crime in America, both Persico and Langella faced charges in the Mafia Commission case, where the government used the RICO statutes to bring down the heads of the New York families.  Persico, who chose to represent himself in that trial, was outraged that the government could try him just for being a member of La Cosa Nostra.  He showed his frustration in court by shouting out, Without the Mafia, there wouldnt be no case here!  In the end, Persico and Langella were both convicted and sentenced to 100 years each.

Victor Orena
Victor "Little Vic" Orena
Persico knew he would never see freedom again, but he had no intention of giving up the reins.  He had ruled the family from prison before, and he would do it again - at least until his son Alphonse Allie Persico finished the prison term he was serving so that he could take over for his father.  Carmine Persico appointed a distant cousin, Victor Little Vic Orena, as his acting boss in the meantime.

Orena came to like wearing the crown.  With the backing of Gambino Family usurper John Gotti, Orena lobbied the Commission in 1990 to have Persico ousted and himself recognized as the rightful boss.  Colombo Family members soon took sides.  Tensions mounted.   Persico loyalists struck first.

On June 20, 1991, a five-man hit team led by Persicos consigliere Carmine Sessa converged on Orenas home on Long Island, ready to take him out.  But one of the shooters jumped the gun, firing his weapon before the other men were in position.    Orena saw them coming and managed to escape.   This attempt on his life forced him to reach out to the other families for help.  He renewed his petition to the Commission to dethrone Persico and legitimize his position as undisputed boss.  Sessa appealed to the Commission on behalf of Persico, portraying Orena as an upstart who was betraying his boss.

Greg Scarpa Sr.
Greg Scarpa Sr.
The Commission was unable to broker a lasting peace for the Colombo Family, and all hell broke loose on November 18, 1991, when two carloads of Orena supporters ambushed Persico capo Greg Scarpa Sr. in Brooklyn as he drove his daughter and granddaughter home.  Hit men ran from their vehicles with guns drawn and converged on Scarpas car.  But Scarpa, one of the toughest gangsters the mob has ever seen, hit the accelerator and made a run for it, crashing into anything that got in his way.  Fenders crunched and bullets flew.  A few bystanders were injured, but Scarpa and his loved ones escaped unharmed.  After the incident, Scarpa, who had been diagnosed with AIDS in 1986 after receiving a tainted blood transfusion from a member of his crew, entered the fray like a wild man.  He had nothing to lose.

(Interestingly, Scarpa had been a secret FBI informer for 30 years, playing both sides of the fence to his own advantage.  As for his legendary toughness, he matched Carmine Persico, who had once spit out a bullet fired into his face.  In 1992, Scarpa took a bullet in the eye during a shootout.  According to Jerry Capeci, Scarpa drove himself home, poured himself a Scotch, and called the police.  He lost the eye.)

Five days after their attempt on Scarpas life, Orena supporters came back hard, gunning down Henry Hank the Bank Smurra outside a doughnut shop in Brooklyn.   This hit team was led by William Wild Bill Cutolo.

War broke out.  Twelve men died in all.   Cutolo killed three himself, as did Scarpa for the Persico camp.  Two of the victims were innocent bystanders.  Fifteen other people were seriously wounded. 

Authorities cracked down on both sides to end the violence, which had gotten far out of hand.  Forty-one Persico loyalists were sent to prison as well as Orena and his most powerful capo, Pasquale Patty Amato.

The last casualty in the Colombo War, Orena capo John Scopo, was the handiwork of an 18-year-old assassin named John Pappa, who had been dispatched by Greg Scarpa.  Pappa, who wears a large tattoo of two menacing eyes across his upper back under the inscription Morte prima di disonore- death before dishonor - then gunned down his two partners in the Scopo murder for taking undeserved credit for the hit.  Eventually Pappa was convicted on four murder charges. He is now serving four life sentences.

The Persico faction ultimately claimed victory, but the war had weakened the family as a whole.  Some would have thought it was time to call for a truce and regroup, but Carmine Persico wasnt through yet.