The epic saga of the Genovese crime family
The Prime Minister
Acting boss Frank Costello's friendship with Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky stretched back to the days of Prohibition in the 1920s. Born in the Italian province of Calabria, Costello understood the value of connections, and unlike his Sicilian counterparts, when he reached into his jacket, he was more likely to come out with bribe money than a gun. Lucky Luciano knew that if his dream for a national crime syndicate was to be realized, he would need a deal maker not a head breaker at the helm while he was in exile.
Costello recognized that the syndicate would never prosper if its rackets were constantly interrupted by arrests and convictions. Growth required stability and continuity, so to protect his criminal enterprises, he ingratiated himself with police officials, politicians, and judges. If a police chief needed a favor, Costello made sure that it was done. If a politician needed votes, Costello delivered. A judge needed money? No problem. Over the years Costello assembled a chessboard full of corrupt officials, working them all to his advantage. Cops would look the other way when Costello's people committed crimes. Judges swayed juries and handed down lighter sentences. Politicians voted down laws that would hinder the syndicate. All thanks to Costello.
Even the nation's top crime fighter, J. Edgar Hoover, the first and longest-sitting director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was not immune to Costello's temptations. Hoover loved the racetrack. Though he swore that he never bet more than two dollars on a single horse, he was rumored to send agents to place larger bets for him. Whenever Costello knew that Hoover would be at the track, the Prime Minister would fix races and, using celebrity columnist Walter Winchell as go-between, make sure that the director knew what the sure bets were so that he could place his wagers accordingly. Perhaps this is why Hoover for many years maintained that the Mafia did not exist in America and the FBI had better things to do than chase down what he thought of as mere gamblers. Without serious scrutiny from the federal government, the syndicate flourished.
By the early 1940s, Costello had his hand in many enterprises. He went into partnership with Meyer Lansky to form jukebox and cigarette machine companies. He put together a coalition of gangsters to open a string of gambling parlors in Florida. He and Chicago syndicate underboss Tony Accardo started a bookmaking operation in Miami that raked in $10 million a year in profits. He and Bugsy Siegel explored illegal opportunities on the West Coast. Realizing Lucky Luciano's dream, Costello's reach stretched from "sea to shining sea."
Known for his expensive suits and impeccable grooming (he would typically go to the barber shop at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel every morning for a trim), Costello was a man about town in New York City. He lived in a swank apartment building on Central Park West and kept an ex-showgirl mistress across the park on Fifth Avenue. He was so trendy he even saw a psychiatrist, Dr. Richard H. Hoffman, long before television character Tony Soprano skulked off to see his shrink. Costello had been seeing Dr. Hoffman for two years before the newspapers got wind of it. The psychiatrist told reporters that he had advised his patient to associate with a "better class of people." Costello abruptly terminated his therapy, countering that it was he who had introduced Hoffman to a "better class of people."
In December 1946, Costello attended a mob convention in Havana, Cuba, called by Lucky Luciano, who had set up shop on the island just months after his deportation to Italy. Attendees included Vito Genovese, Joe Bonanno, Tommy Lucchese, Willie Moretti, Tampa boss Santo Trafficante, New Orleans boss Carlos Marcello, Tony Accardo and the three Fischetti brothers (Al Capone's cousins) from Chicago as well as Jewish gangsters Meyer Lansky, Moe Dalitz, Longy Zwillman, and Doc Stacher. Singer Frank Sinatra had been invited to perform at the Hotel Nacional where the gangsters were meeting, giving them all a pretense for being there. They'd all come, they said, to see Frank. At the conference, Luciano, backed up by Costello and Lansky, put forth a motion to ban narcotics trafficking from the syndicate's portfolio. Luciano hoped that by getting the syndicate out of the drug trade, he would stand a better chance of convincing American officials to reverse his deportation order. But the bosses from around the country wouldn't agree to it. Drug dealing was just too lucrative to abandon, and one of its most vociferous proponents was Luciano's close associate, Vito Genovese.
At the Havana Conference Genovese revealed his ambitions to take over the syndicate. He lobbied to get Luciano to retire, asking Lucky in private if it might be time to step down while at the same time polling the other conference attendees to see if he could get them to vote Luciano out. Genovese also proposed that Albert Anastasia, the Lord High Executioner, be eliminated because he had become too "kill crazy." Anastasia had been dropping hints that he was going to put a contract out on Bureau of Narcotics Director Harry Anslinger. Luciano called off the hit on Anslinger and managed to block Genovese's move to kill Anastasia, knowing that he would need the Lord High Executioner's muscle if Genovese ever decided to go to war for supremacy of the New York rackets. The syndicate summit ended, and the mobsters, including Frank Costello, returned home with American officials none the wiser.