Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carlos Marcello: Big Daddy In The Big Easy

Punching Federale

Meeting at La Stella (AP)
Meeting at La Stella (AP)

On Thursday afternoon, September 22, 1966, a group of men met for lunch at an Italian restaurant called La Stella, which was located at 102-111 Queens Boulevard in Forrest Hills, in the borough of Queens, New York. They were gathered around a table in a private dining area in the basement, and while awaiting their first course, New York police raided the building and arrested everyone. There were thirteen of them and all were members of the Mafia.

Who had summoned the meeting, and how it was organized and what its purpose was has never been disclosed. The group was all taken to a nearby police station, questioned, searched and then released on personal bail of $100,000 each. Among the thirteen, were five of the top bosses, three from New York, and Carlos, along with his good friend Santo from Tampa.

Although there has been speculation about why the meeting was called, it seems reasonable to assume that in part at least, it was to resolve matters relating to New Orleans. Carlos sat at the table with his brother Joe, his underboss, along with Anthony Carolla and Frank Gagliano, two of his senior family members. Carolla had apparently been seeking a greater share of the New Orleans mob's action, citing seniority within the family and his family birthright. His father had been Sam Carolla, who had run the family until deportation in 1947. Anthony was also apparently seeking approval for consideration to take over the New Orleans Mafia when Marcello eventually retired. These, and no doubt other matters, had been resolved at another venue, and the group had then moved to La Stella for a late lunch.

Although action was taken to indict all the men and the District Attorney of Queens, Nat Hentel, made much about what became known as "Little Apalachin," the whole thing fizzled out eventually. The greatest disservice that the incident caused for Carlos was drawing attention to his links to known mobsters. He had always insisted to law enforcement agencies that he had never associated with organized crime figures and was not himself in any way connected to the Mafia. For years, Louisiana police, politicians and even the FBI office in New Orleans had accepted his story. Now it was all in the open. His lame-duck excuse "What's da matter with some old friends getting together for lunch? This was strictly a social gathering; that's all there was to it..." did not fool anybody. The meeting at La Stella made headline news in the New York papers and was soon circulating across the country via the news services.

Marcello and the FBI agent (AP)
Marcello and the FBI agent
(AP)

On October 1, Carlos and his brother Joe flew from New York to New Orleans International Airport. There was a large crowd of reporters, photographers and spectators waiting to meet them. As they moved through the throng in the terminal building, there was suddenly a scuffle and Carlos threw a punch at someone. He later claimed that he did not know who it was, just someone blocking his way, and he impatiently let fly with a straight left. However the recipient of the punch was someone he knew well. It was FBI agent Patrick Collins, who kept tabs on Carlos for the New Orleans office.

According to Collins, as he approached Carlos, the little man shouted at him, "I'm the boss around here," and then let fly. A press photographer captured the scene and the next day Carlos was arrested and charged with assaulting an FBI agent. Eventually, the case came to court and on May 20, 1968, Carlos went on trial in Laredo, Texas. This venue, over 600 miles west of New Orleans, was chosen to isolate him from any potential prejudice that might have been present in New Orleans. Yet again, he was acquitted, this time by a hung jury.

Convinced that the jury had been tampered with, the authorities re-indicted Carlos and he was tried a second time, in Houston. On August 9, he was found guilty and sentenced to two years in a federal prison. In true tradition, he only served six months in a medical facility in Springfield, Missouri. It was his first prison sentence in thirty years.

In fact, had the whole truth emerged at his trial, it is conceivable that he would have been acquitted. It appeared that FBI agent Collins had been having an affair with "Bootsie," the wife of brother Joe, and using her to get information on the family's activities. An impetuous and brash man, the FBI agent had apparently taunted Carlos with this information, causing the response he must have known would occur. A man of honour, Carlos would not have allowed this dishonour to become public knowledge, and so had taken his punishment.

On June 15, 1968, Carlos was in court in Laredo to hear that his indictment was overthrown because of a hung jury. The same day, Robert Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles. In a space of less than five years, both Kennedy brothers were dead, assassinated in public; in a strange example of deja vu, each time, Carlos Marcello was in a criminal court being acquitted of a criminal offence. Two months earlier, on April 4, another famous American figure, Martin Luther King, was shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee.

Was there a connection between these two latest murders, and if so, what was the common link?

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