Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carlos Marcello: Big Daddy In The Big Easy

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Frank Costello
Frank Costello

One thousand four hundred and six miles to the north east of New Orleans is New York. Here five Mafia families were masters of their universe. Charles "Lucky" Luciano ran the largest of these crime confederations. His right hand and trusted aide was Frank Costello, a man whose talents lay more in diplomacy than destruction so much so, that he became known as "The Prime Minister of the mob." Costello, the son of poor immigrants from Naples, had grown up on the Lower East Side and, at the age of sixteen, had hit the streets as a petty criminal. By 1935, he was forty-four years old and at the peak of his career, helping to manage and control one of the biggest criminal fraternities in the United States.

By 1933, among his many business interests, he controlled a major section of the slot machine business in the New York metropolitan area. It was a business that generated hundreds of thousands of dollars each month; it also generated a lot of competition-associated violence and created the need for massive police corruption to maintain its momentum.

On December 31, 1933, a feisty, five-feet-two fat man with a squeaky voice was elected mayor of New York. Fiorello LaGuardia may have looked and sounded comical, but his actions were anything but. An American-Italian, fiercely proud of his ancestry and heritage, he despised the Mafia and what it stood for. One of his first actions on assuming office was to instigate a war on crime, and he went after professional gamblers with a vengeance, saying in a radio broadcast: "Let's drive the bums out of town."

The removal and destruction of pinball and slot machines became a priority for LaGuardia's administration and Costello's business came under their scrutiny. Although Supreme Court judge Selak B. Strong issued an injunction forbidding the police from seizing Frank's slot machines, LaGuardia simply ignored it and had the machines seized anyway.

By 1935, Frank's machines were either seized and destroyed or off the streets and stored away in warehouses in New Jersey to save them from the axe. For Costello, it must have been like owning a string of racehorses and not being allowed to run them. Salvation came in the form of an invitation to move his machines south of the Mason-Dixie line to Louisiana. It came from Huey Pierce Long, the corrupt ex-governor of the state. One of the most colourful and dangerous men to ever march across the American political scene, The Kingfish, as he was often called, had become friends with Costello on one of his many trips north. Details of their relationship are not clear, although many theories have been suggested for the friendship that developed between them. Just how the invitation was set in place is also unknown, but by the spring of 1935, Costello had at least one thousand machines in placed in and around New Orleans.

This was all done with the cooperation of many people. First there were the minions of Long and their contacts at state and city political level. Then the police had to be looked after and, last but not least, the local Mafia family had to be involved. Frank Costello ensured the safety of his share in the deal by using one of his trusted aides, Philiph Kastel. Also known as "Dandy Phil," he was a New York confidence man who had enjoyed a full and varied career by the time he came down to New Orleans to manage the operation for Costello. At 49, he was the perfect man for the job. A gifted organizer and master corrupter, much of the credit for the success of the operation belonged to him.

"Dandy Phil" worked closely with James Brocatto, an ex-bodyguard of Huey Long, who was also associated with the New Orleans mobsters. Using his influence and contacts, Frank's slots soon found good homes in and around the French Quarter. By 1940, Costello was ready to expand out into the West Bank, and he and Kastel sat down for a meeting with Carlos. It was agreed that the Jefferson Music Company would install and service 250 machines for a fee of two thirds of the gross; the rest disappearing into one of Costello's newly formed enterprises The Louisiana Mint Company.

Carlos was a tireless operator and soon had all the slots in place, pumping out money on a daily basis. They were located in bars, whorehouses, restaurants and gambling dens across Algiers and Gretna. It was during this period that Carlos became close friends with the Gretna chief of police, Beauregard Miller, one of the many important people he would come to nurture over the years to come. He would feed him huge dollops of cash from time to time, amounts as high as $50,000, ensuring his support and co-operation in the free running of his many criminal enterprises in Jefferson Parish. Carlos also began to look after himself and his family. By 1941, there were two young daughters added to the family and they all moved from the cramped apartment above the liquor store, into a two-story house in Gretna.

America was at war in 1941. Although brothers Peter and Vincent went off to fight for their country, Carlos, who had never become a U.S. citizen, stayed at home. There were many black- market opportunities to be exploited in and around the Port of New Orleans, and he and his other family, the Mafia, were making the most of them. His reputation as a tough guy and an enforcer grew; there were rumours of violence, extortion even murder. The bayous of Louisiana were vast and deep, and many people vanished into them forever.

One of them was Constantine Masotto. On the run from a New York crime family, he fled to New Orleans. The police were keeping a watch on his movements, when he suddenly disappeared. About a year later, his skeletal remains were found buried in a swamp behind a tavern owned by Marcello. An FBI report concluded, based on their evidence and an informant's tip-off, that Masotto had been beaten to death by Marcello and his body dumped into a tub of lye. This was one of many murders of which Marcello was suspected and never convicted.

Although he was only in his early thirties, Carlos had become a seasoned veteran and a highly respected earner for the mob. He was a man to be reckoned with, even though people called him "Little Man."

In 1944 Frank Costello, along with Meyer Lansky, the Jewish arch manipulator of mob finances, Kastel and Freddie Rickerfor, a state legislator and well-known political fixer, opened a night-club-gambling casino and called it the Beverley Club. It was situated in the old Suburban Gardens nightclub in Jefferson Parish. Carlos was brought in as a shareholder. Some sources claim he was given 12.5% for nothing, others that he purchased 20% for $45,000. Whatever the deal, the "Little Man" was now moving into big company. He was 35 years old and playing in the big league.

The Beverley Club opened in December 1945 and was an immediate success. People flocked into its palatial dining rooms, bars and gaming rooms, and soon it established a nightclub where it hosted major entertainers of the day, people such as Jimmy Durante and Joe E. Lewis.

Carlos was appointed manager of the club and, along with his brothers Anthony and Peter, was also becoming more involved in managing the gambling operations of Frank Costello. Jefferson Parish police were recruited to act as doormen and bouncers. New Orleans police had long maintained an unenviable reputation as some of the most corrupt law enforcement officials in America and "detailing," as they referred to moonlighting jobs, had always been a major part of their income. One New Orleans chief of detectives was found to have a safe deposit box containing $150,000. His salary at the time was $186 a month.

To keep the wheels of his organization running smoothly, Carlos built up his chain of influential contacts. Along with Miller, he also had sheriff Frank "King" Clancy, head of the Jefferson parish police, in his pocket. Thirty years down the track, the FBI would tape Marcello boasting of his largesse: "I used to give them all cash money...I'd go out in the morning with my pants full...I took care of everybody." It was believed that he had a special foot-length pocket sewn into the left legs of his trousers, which he would stuff full of "travelling money." Clancy claimed that he did not enforce gambling laws in his parish because more than 1000 people, many of them old and underprivileged, were employed by the casinos. Closing gambling down would have thrown these people out of work and cost the parish and the state a lot of welfare money. Naturally this kind of altruism did have its reward. Clancy retired a very rich man.

By 1947, Carlos was active in many business ventures. He and brother Vincent were building up the Jefferson Music Company to include services for racetrack gamblers. He joined forces with a senior family member, Joe Poretto, to take over the largest racing wire service in Louisiana, and he was also plowing his profits into West Bank real estate. He and Jacqueline now had four children and they moved into a new home in Marrero, an upmarket suburb ten miles south west of New Orleans. In his new eight-bedroom mansion with sloping red tiled roofs and Corinthian arches, one of his neighbours was the head of the wealthy Provenzano family, the same one that fought the Matrangas fifty-six years before. The Marcello home was one of the biggest and most ostentatious on the West Bank and boldly stated its owner's power and position.

Carlos Marcello was reaching the peak of his career. He had many and varied businesses; he controlled police and politicians; he was respected to the extent that the governor of the state would seek his counsel; and he was becoming widely known among the important Mafiosi across the country who would come to regard him in due course as one of the strongest and most powerful of their tradition.

There was one thing he did not yet have, but achieving it was only months away.

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