Carlos Marcello: Big Daddy In The Big Easy
Vaya Con Dios to All That
When Carlos went off to prison in April 1983, he left a ship that was drifting. He lost most of his political influence almost immediately after he was behind bars and no one was able to replicate his drive and energy; his imprisonment and ongoing illnesses severely handicapped his ability to act as a de facto boss.
His brother Joe, long the family's underboss, lacked the energy and ambition to manage an enterprise as complicated and diverse as the one Carlos had controlled for almost forty years. He himself had only recently been under pressure as a result of an investigation. In June 1982, he was indicted on charges of lying to a grand jury investigating the killing of a Texas judge. Joe had been overheard on a BRILAB tape discussing his involvement in the killing of Judge John H. Wood, Jr., who was shot dead outside his San Antonio home on May 29, 1979.
Three years later, Charles V. Harrelson (the father of movie and television star Woody Harrelson) was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The murder contract had been placed by Texas drug czar Jimmy Chagra, (awaiting trial before the judge, notorious for his heavy sentencing on drug traffickers,) who was close to the Marcello family. Chagra's wife, Elizabeth had handed over $250,000 in cash to Harrelson to carry out the murder.
Harrelson has always been identified as the tall man in the famous photograph of the three so-called "tramps" who were arrested in the railway yard behind Dealey Plaza, shortly after President Kennedy was shot. When he was arrested for the judge's murder, he confessed to the participating in the Kennedy assassination. He later retracted his statement, saying he made it under the influence of drugs.
Joe Marcello decided to dedicate most of his time and effort into the business that had always interested him the most, the restaurant trade. He owned La Louisianne, one of the top eating houses in The French Quarter, and also a big, noisy restaurant-come-night club called Lenfants, near Metairie, on the outskirts of mid-city New Orleans.
Vincent Marcello devoted his energies to running the family's slot machine business, the Jefferson Music Company, aided by brothers Sammy and Anthony. Elder brothers, Peter and Pascal went more or less out of circulation, and drifted into retirement.
Joseph "Little Joe" Marcello, the only son of Carlos, had apparently never shown any disposition to be involved in the Mafia clan his father had controlled. He had become a multimillionaire in his mid-twenties through asset transfers from his father and seemed content to lead the life of a rich, indulged observer.
One-eyed Pete Marcello, in his seventies, sold out his interests in his Bourbon Street clip joints, and retired to a house in Gretna, where Carlos had begun his rise to fame, all those years ago.
In February 1988, Sammy, then aged 58, was indicted by a New Orleans Grand Jury for participating in a multi state money-laundering operation used to conceal profits from drug trafficking.
Anthony Carolla, long cherishing the role as boss of the Louisiana Mafia, apparently got his way in 1991, appointing Frank Gagliano as his underboss.
By 1986, the New Orleans French Quarter, once a huge source of income for Carlos, was firmly under the control of Frank Carraci and Nick Karno, and neither of them was answering to Marcello. Carraci had been a mid-level operator in the organization running strip joints in this area, and he was also involved in extensive gambling operations in Louisiana and Texas. Not only were these two men operating as independents, they were also encouraging the participation into their domain of people like John Gotti, head of the powerful Gambino family of New York, and Nicodemo Scarfo, the homicidal maniac who had taken over the Philadelphia Mafia in 1981.
According to information collected by FBI wiretaps, representatives of the Philadelphia family contacted ageing mobster Frank Gagliano, the underboss to Carolla, for permission to move into casino-styled gambling operations and cocaine trafficking.
"Sure, go ahead," Gagliano is supposed to have said, "come on in. You won't get any problems from the Marcellos. They're finished. They don't mean nothin' around here any more."
On June 1, 1994, newspaper headlines read: "Video Poker Raids net 17, Skimming Plot by Mob Alleged."
Members of the Marcello crime family and the New York Gambino and Genovese Mafia families had been arrested, following an FBI/Louisiana State Police mounted operation that had lasted two years. In a series of predawn raids, suspects were arrested in Louisiana, New York and Florida. The racketeering charges alleged that the three crime families were involved in establishing and controlling two businesses known as Worldwide Gaming of Louisiana, Inc, and Louisiana Route Operators, Inc. These companies were licensed to sell, distribute and receive revenues from video poker machines in Louisiana. The mobsters were aiming to skim funds collected from these machines, before taxes were due, and to funnel this money into their own crime families.
Among those arrested were: Anthony Carolla and Frank Gagliano, boss and no 2 man in the Marcello family, Joe Marcello Jr., Joe Gagliano, son of Frank, and family [capo], Sebastian Salvatore. Two powerful members of the Gambino family, Joseph Corozzo and John Gammarano were also indicted. For Corozzo it was a double blow, as he had apparently been nominated, approved and was about to be "raised" to replace imprisoned John Gotti, as head of the family. Within a year they had all been tried and convicted.
In June 1995, Gagliano's son Joseph pleaded not guilty to cheating the President Casino out of $520,000 by using marked cards at a blackjack table. He was aided by five other men in this scam, some from out of state.
On Saturday, June 12, 1999, Joseph Marcello Jr., died of congestive heart failure in the New Orleans Memorial Medical Centre. He was 75. He had been sentenced to thirty-three months in prison for his part in the Worldwide Gaming indictment. He was also charged with tax evasion, and sentenced to thirty months on that one. He served his sentences concurrently and was released in July 1998.
As the twentieth century dawned, the Louisiana Mafia was consolidating and strengthening its position, quietly laying a foundation for Matranga and his successors to build upon. They had learned their lesson in 1891, and made sure that their activities would be low key. It was for instance only in 1951 with the Kefauver hearings, that Carlos Marcello and his activities were partially revealed to an unsuspecting America. Matranga, Carolla and Marcello also saw the benefits to be obtained by controlling not only the criminal landscape of New Orleans and Louisiana, but also the political establishment. The family's strength grew exponential to its ability to corrupt. Under Marcello, it was also truly a '"family" business with all seven brothers holding down senior management positions, in what was after all one of the smaller Mafia clans in America. Nowhere else in the country, with the exception of Detroit, did so many family related members control the destiny of a crime group of its size for so many years.
It was undoubtedly the family ties that helped keep Marcello in power for so long. Informants or those aspiring to the seat of power never threatened his safety and power base.
Anthony Carolla had to wait twenty-five years to assume command, following that meeting in New York in 1966.
The last one hundred years have seen the dramatic rise, and equally ineluctable fall of the American Mafia. Its demise was unavoidable, in that the powerhouse that drove it had to run out of steam at some time. As organized crime became a subject of media generated investigation and hype, it also became politically expedient for governments to pursue and try and slay the dragon by using senate investigative committees, which in turn galvanised law enforcement agencies into action. The FBI, long a bystander in the wings, became committed to the fight after the Valachi disclosures in 1963, and the die was cast for the Mob.
The last thirty years have seen a massive growth in the number of indictments and successful prosecutions carried out on Mafia families and their administrations. At the same time, the level of leadership has deteriorated badly, leaving once powerful organized crime units vulnerable and susceptible to attack from not only law enforcement, but emerging criminal enterprises, such as biker gangs, Triads and other Asian groups, drug cartels from South America, the Russian Mafia bands, as well as the dynamic growth of Serbian and Albanian mobsters working as organized crime groups.
It will be interesting to see how well the remnants of the once powerful Mafia families like the one Carlos Marcello ran for so long, evolve and develop through this next century. Let us all make a note in our diaries to check back on their progress in 2099.