The epic saga of the Genovese crime family
The Hot Head
Cigar and cigarette smoke drifted over the ring as two sweaty prizefighters traded punches. Sweat sprayed from their soaked heads with each blow. It was the last round, and the crowd was on its feet, yelling and jeering. One of the managers fidgeted in the corner, flexing his fists as he cursed and scowled, trying to keep track of which fighter was scoring more points. Finally the bell rang, and the referee separated the two exhausted pugilists. The brawny manager stared into the ref's face, certain that his man had won on points. The ref took both fighters by the wrists. The manager was a spring coil wound tight, poised to jump for joy. But when he saw the referee lifting the other fighter's arm to declare him the winner, the manager sprung like a rock from a catapult. He leaped over the ropes and dove into the ring. Balling his fist, he threw a round-house that clocked the ref on the chin, knocking him flat on his back. The men in the ring converged on the furious manager and held him down to keep him from doing any more damage. It was a shameful display of unsportsmanlike behavior, but what made it remarkable was that the out-of-control manager, Thomas "Tommy Ryan" Eboli, would one day become the boss of the Genovese crime family. Or at least he would seem to be the boss.
After Vito Genovese went to prison in 1959, the Genovese family took omerta, the Mafia vow of secrecy, to new levels. As Jerry Capeci states in The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia, the family maintained a series of "up front" bosses to distract authorities from the real boss. At times the Genovese family seemed to go out of its way to appear to be the gang that couldn't shoot straight when, in fact, it was a well-oiled criminal money machine and arguably the top Mafia family in America.
It was generally believed that Vito Genovese made the hot-headed Tommy Eboli his acting boss when he went away to prison, promoting Jerry Catena, Anthony "Tony Bender" Strollo, and Mike Miranda to serve as Eboli's top lieutenants. But the only stellar quality Eboli possessed was his subservient loyalty to Genovese who called the shots from the Atlanta prison where he was incarcerated. The soldiers in the family disliked Eboli for the few lunk-headed decisions he was allowed to make on his own but more for his stingy nature. As boss, he was always reluctant to give his men a "taste." Eboli refused to front his men funds to buy drugs, even when the profit potential was explained to him at great length. Other crime family bosses found him difficult to work with, particularly Carlo Gambino, who had lost millions on a joint narcotics deal that Eboli had put together. When the deal went sour, instead of making good on Gambino's investment, Eboli just shrugged it off as if to say, "That's life, pal."
Despite Eboli's apparent lack of brain power, he did maintain a few successful rackets in the music and entertainment business. He controlled a vending machine and jukebox enterprise and owned several night clubs and a few clandestine gay bars in New York's Greenwich Village. Eboli bought into a New Jersey record company called Promo Records, which, according to Fredaic Dannen in his book Hit Men, "specialized in cutouts: old, unsold albums dumped wholesale by record companies into the hands of discount merchandisers." Cutouts were "counterfeited easily," according to Dannen, and Promo would legitimately buy a shipment, then press many more and sell them to the discounters.
Eboli had a hard time staying focused on the business of stealing money. He was a thug at heart and felt compelled to get his hands dirty even when his rank demanded that he hand over dirty jobs to underlings. When Vito Genovese had decided that Tony Strollo was a liability and had to be whacked, Eboli did it himself. There was no "job" to messy for him. Back in 1957 when Vincent Gigante took a shot at Frank Costello and missed, Eboli drove the getaway car. Perhaps Eboli felt a sense of obligation since he had managed Gigante's boxing career.
Three years after Vito Genovese died in prison, Carlo Gambino decided it was time for a regime change in the Genovese family. Gambino, who had significant influence over three of the other New York crime families, wanted to install someone he knew he could work with. In the early morning of July 1, 1972, Eboli was just leaving the apartment of one of his mistresses in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, when a red and yellow van pulled up alongside his parked Cadillac. Gunfire from inside the van shattered the quiet street. Eboli took five shots to the face and neck at close range. He died at the scene. The way was now clear for Carlo Gambino's handpicked choice for Genovese boss, Frank "Funzi" Tieri.