The epic saga of the Genovese crime family
The Plots Against Genovese
On November 14, 1957, just 20 days after the attempt on Frank Costello's life, 58 mobsters from across the country assembled in the rural upstate New York town of Apalachin. Vito Genovese had pushed for the Apalachin Conference, as it later became known, and it's generally believed that this was where he planned to have himself crowned boss of all bosses.
At this time the syndicate still hadn't made up its mind about narcotics. On the one hand, mobsters saw almost limitless profit potential in dealing drugs, but many of the bosses also recognized the risks. Authorities could look the other way when it came to gambling or prostitution, but government officials—at least the ones who hadn't already been corrupted by the mob—were hell-bent on squashing illegal drug use in the United States. Lucky Luciano, among others, felt that the narcotics trade would result in prosecutions and convictions that no amount of bribery could prevent and eventually the syndicate's dominance over the underworld would erode.
Don Vito Genovese, however, could not resist the riches that drugs produced, and he, more than any other mob leader, wanted to expand the syndicate's involvement in narcotics. Luciano and Lansky felt that this would destroy all that they'd built, so together with Frank Costello, who was hungry for a taste of that cold delicacy called revenge, they plotted to bring down Genovese. They invited Carlo Gambino, who now headed the family formerly controlled by Albert Anastasia, into their conspiracy. Genovese mistakenly thought of Gambino as a solid ally because he had helped the foxy Gambino eliminate Anastasia.
The gangsters invited to the Apalachin Conference, most of them supporters of Genovese, gathered at a stone mansion owned by a local businessman named Joseph Barbara who had sent his wife out the day before to pick up enough steaks to feed a small army. Shiny luxury cars jammed the driveway and lined the road outside Barbara's 58-acre estate. Inside the house the mobsters were getting comfortable, settling in for their meeting.
Suddenly, a cadre of New York State troopers raided the house. The mobsters fled in panic, some running across the fields that surrounded the house in their fancy suits and shiny wingtips, desperate to get to the woods where they hoped they could escape. Others, like Genovese, jumped into their cars and sped off only to be stopped by police road blocks. Dozens of ex-cons and known criminals were apprehended. Many accounts of the incident credit the diligent efforts of a perceptive state trooper named Edgar Croswell who had noticed suspicious cars coming in and out of the area, but it was more likely that the authorities were tipped off by individuals hired by Luciano, Costello, and Lansky, none of whom appeared at the conference. Luciano was forbidden from entering the country. Costello claimed that he was under constant police surveillance and couldn't slip away undetected. Lansky called in sick and stayed home in Florida. Vito Genovese and Carlo Gambino were among the mobsters arrested.
Genovese had been dealt a blow, but he was by no means out of the picture, and now that his enemies had kicked the hornet's nest, they had to eliminate the problem before they got stung. Luciano, Lansky, and Costello knew that Genovese would be gunning for them, so they put together another plot, hoping to eliminate him before he eliminated them, and they used the bait that Genovese just couldn't resist. After setting up a lucrative drug deal that was just too good for Genovese to pass up, they paid a Puerto Rican drug dealer named Nelson "Melon" Cantellops $100,000 to turn state's witness and testify against Genovese. Luciano, Costello, and Lansky fed Cantellops choice insider information to boost his credibility. The "Melon" told a grand jury in Manhattan that he had attended a meeting at which Genovese conspired to take over the entire drug trade in the Bronx. Prosecutors chose to ignore the fact that in all probability a small-fish drug pusher wouldn't have had access to a big-fish Mafia boss and that whatever testimony he gave would be hearsay at best, but they wanted Genovese so badly, they took the little fish's testimony as gospel truth and won a conviction against Genovese on April 17, 1959. Genovese was given a 15-year sentence.
The imprisoned Don Vito continued to rule the family, which now bore his name (thanks to the testimony of turncoat Joseph Valachi who publicly referred to it as such), using his brother Mike as his messenger. Vito Genovese died of a heart attack on February 14, 1969, at the federal prison medical center in Springfield, Mo.