The Dying of the Light: The Joseph Valachi Story
Even the Bad Times are Bad
In 1955, Joe was arrested and convicted on a narcotics conspiracy charge and sentenced to five years in prison. The appeals court then reversed the indictment, but he was arrested again in 1956 in a drug case involving his brother-in-law, Giacomo Reina. It was the first time Valachi had seen the inside of a prison cell in over thirty years. However, he was soon released on bail, pending an appeal. He won.
It was not Joes first venture into drugs. This had been in 1952, and illustrates the perfidy of the top men in Cosa Nostra. As Joe said, It was a mess...I want the boys who are in it [Cosa Nostra] today to know how the greed of the bosses is ruining this thing of ours.
Valachi set up a deal with Pat Pagano to import fifteen kilos of heroin via a Corsican source in Marseilles. Cognizant of the familys edict regarding the no-go rule on drugs, Joe went to Tony Bender and got him involved. He knew that, with Benders backing, he was in the clear. Bender put up the initial $8000 for the down payment. He agreed to this proving that he was included with Joe and his partner on a fifty-fifty basis of the $165,000 that would be realized after they wholesaled the dope. But when the drugs arrived, Joe suddenly found that, in addition to Bender, he had to include Genovese and four other members of Benders inner circle. At the end of the day, Joe and his partner, Pat Pagano, ended up with 2 kilos each of heroin. To rub salt into the wound, Joe later discovered that the profits he thought he was sharing among six people was in fact split only between Bender and Genovese.
1957 was a bad year for Cosa Nostra and it wasnt the brightest in Valachis almanac, for sure.
On May 2nd, Frank Costello was shot as he returned to his apartment on Central Park West in Manhattan. Although he was only slightly wounded, he knew that Vito Genovese had set up the assassination attempt and that the next one might not fail. He bowed down and retired gracefully from the family leadership.
Two months later, on June 17th, Frank Scalice, underboss of the family run by Albert Anastasia, was shot dead as he picked some peaches in his favorite fruit store in the Bronx. Then on October 25th, Anastasia sat down for what was to be his last haircut in chair number four at the barber shop in the Park-Sheraton Hotel in Manhattan. He'd wrested control of the family by killing the Mangano brothers in 1951, and now it was his turn. Two masked gunmen walked in and blasted Albert out of the green leather seat.
Then three weeks went by and on November 14th, New York State police officers arrested dozens of men who had congregated at an estate in upper New York at a place called Apalachin. It turned out that these men-some from Italy and some from other parts of the country-all had police records. Surprise, surprise, all seemed to belong to some kind of secret criminal organization.
In the seamy, convoluted, Byzantine world of the Cosa Nostra, the Apalachin debacle set a new standard for duplicitous standards.
Ill tell you the reaction of all of us soldiers when we heard about the raid, said Valachi. "If it had been us, you can imagine what the bosses would have done...there they were, running through the woods like scared rabbits, throwing away money and guns...so who are they kidding when they say we got to respect them?
For Joe during this period, bad would only turn to worse, mirroring the mobs misfortunes. His liquor license at the Lido restaurant was revoked. He kept it going as a pizza place, and put all his ready cash into the construction of another eating-place in Yonkers. When he was convicted in the 1955 drug bust, he had to cancel the project and sell the Lido. Since it had no liquor license, it was worth little. Then his partner in the dress factory died and Joe discovered he had been withholding taxes, so the business was liquidated to satisfy a government lien.
Joe started dealing in drugs again and developed an interest in a jukebox operation in East Harlem and the Bronx. By 1959, he wanted out of drug dealing completely. His juke box business was doing nicely, he had developed a linen supply company, and had joined with another Cosa Nostra soldier in forming a numbers business.
In May of 1959, it all started to unravel. He was tipped off by one of his black operators in Harlem that the FBN were closing in and he only just evaded them as they raided his home. On the run, Joe went into hiding, first sharing an apartment with a girlfriend in the Bronx, then traveling up into northern New York State. There he stayed at a trailer camp near a small rural town called Thompsonville.
On November 19th, three federal agents arrested Joe as he waited at a pay phone near the camp. Joe had employed a young street hoodlum called Ralph Wagner to help him in his drug ring and this man had been arrested in the swoop that almost caught Joe back in May. Trying for a lighter sentence, Wagner had tipped off the FBN that Joe was waiting for a telephone call from him that night, at that particular phone box.
Taken back to Brooklyn, Valachi was charged and then released on $25,000 bail. His numbers and loan shark business had gone west during his six month absence, and he had a hard job raising the money. Because of the pressure the narcotic agents were exerting no one was interested in buying out his jukebox business. In February 1960, Joe agreed to plead guilty to his drug charge, providing that the court allow him a month to settle up his affairs. He had already decided to skip the country and move north to Canada to seek shelter with a man called Alfredo Agueci. Joe had been introduced to Agueci by family member Vincent Mauro while they were at a bar in Manhattan. Agueci and his brother Vito were Sicilian drug dealers working in and around the crime family based in Buffalo, under the leadership of Stefano Magaddino.
Afraid that the bail bondsman would foreclose on his house when he skipped, Joe sold it at a loss in a fire sale. He resettled Mildred and Donald into another, much cheaper home back in the Bronx, making sure the title of the property was in her name only. From this point in time, his real family would no longer be part of his life.
Shortly after arriving in Toronto, Joe received a telephone call from Tony Bender telling him to return. Get back here, Bender said. The fix is in. Youre only going to get five years. Although he flew back to New York, Joe got cold feet. For a month he moved around from place to place in the Bronx and New Jersey, but eventually turned himself in to the authorities. When he entered the courtroom on June 3rd, he realized that the atmosphere was all wrong. Instead of five, the judge sentenced him to fifteen years and fined him $10,000. Wagner, the man who had turned Joe in, received an eight- to twelve- year term for his part in the drug bust.
Both men were sent to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary to begin serving their sentences. In August 1961, Valachi was returned to New York to stand trial in another narcotics conspiracy trial. This was the case that Joe claims was a set up, the one involving Bender, Mauro and the Agueci brothers, and the one that led up to all of his troubles. Joe was found guilty in February 1962 and sentenced to twenty years, a sentence that was to run concurrently with the term he was already serving.
In the days leading up to the killing of John Saupp, Valachi was under intense strain. Apart from the suspicion that he was an informer, Genovese was also expressing his concern over Joes links to Tony Bender. Vito was mad at Bender, who he believed had grabbed some profits by going behind his back on numerous drug deals. It is also possible that Genovese had pieced together the jigsaw that had resulted in his own drug conviction. Apparently this had been masterminded by Charlie Luciano, Frank Costello and a man called Carlo Gambino, the new head of the old Anastasia family, and they had coordinated it through Bender. All had different reasons to see Vito behind bars, and their scheme had succeeded without qualification. Whatever the rationalization, reaching out from behind prison walls, Genovese finally settled his grudge with Tony Bender.
On the evening of April 8th, 1962, he told his wife he was going out for a few minutes and left his luxurious home in Fort Lee, New Jersey. He never returned. Rumors abound as to his fate, but one thing is certain: He died somewhere, somehow, that night. One day soon afterwards, while in a casual conversation with Joe, Genovese said, It was the best thing that could have happened to Tony. He wouldnt be able to take it [prison] like you and I.