Carmine Galante (February 21, 1910 – July 12, 1979) was a feared and ambitious mobster who was once the acting boss of the Bonanno crime family. Galante was rarely seen without a cigar in his mouth or clenched between his fingers, leading to the nickname "The Cigar" and "Lilo" (an Italian slang word for cigar). Under Joseph "Bananas" Bonanno and Galante's leadership the Bonanno family became known as the "Heroin Family" and was dominant in the billion dollar business of heroin trafficking, in which Carmine was heavily involved.
Camillo Carmine Galante was born on February 21, 1910, in a tenement building in the East Harlem section of Manhattan. His parents, Vincenzo "James" Galante and Vincenza Russo, had emigrated to New York City in 1906 from Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, where Vincenzo was a fisherman. When he was in grade school, Galante ditched his given name Camillo, and insisted he be called Carmine instead.
Carmine had two brothers, Samuel and Peter Galante, and two sisters, Josephine and Angelina Galante. Carmine Galante married Helen Marullo, by whom he had three children; James Galante, Camilla Galante, and Angela Galante. For the last 20 years of his life, Galante lived with Ann Acquavella; the couple had two children together. He was the uncle of Bonanno crime family capo James Carmine Galante.
Galante stood around 5½ feet and weighed approximately 160 pounds. While in prison in 1931, doctors diagnosed Galante as having a psychopathic personality. Galante owned the Rosina Costume Company in Brooklyn, Latamer Shipping Company in New York which was set up as an import-export company, but the feds were convinced he was using it as part of a world-wide distribution network involving his drug business. And then there was ABCO Vending Machine Company based in Union City, New Jersey. In addition to these business, Galante also owned numerous restaurants and other small businesses in both New York and Canada during his time there.
Early Years Edit
At age 10, Galante was sent to reform school due to his criminal activities. He soon formed a juvenile street gang on New York's Lower East Side. At various times, Galante attended Public High Schools 79 and 120, but he dropped out of school for good at the age of fifteen. Galante was in and out of reform school several times, and was considered an "incorrigible delinquent." As a teenager, Galante became a Mafia associate during the Prohibition era, becoming a leading enforcer by the end of the decade. During this period, Galante also worked as a fish sorter and at an artificial flower shop. However, this was a ruse to satisfy the law that Galante was gainfully employed, when, in fact, he was engaged in a very lucrative criminal career.
On December 12, 1925, the 15 year-old Galante pleaded guilty to assault charges. On December 22, 1926, Galante was sentenced to at least two-and-a-half years in state prison. Galante was released from prison in 1930, and in order to satisfy his parole officer, he got another sham "job" at the O'Brien Fish Company at 105 South Street, near the Fulton Fish Market.
On August 30, 1930, Galante, along with Michael Consolo and Angelo Presenzano, were arrested and indicted for the murder of police officer Walter DeCastilla during a payroll robbery. However, all of the accused were soon released due to lack of evidence. Also in 1930, New York Police Department (NYPD) officer Joseph Meenahan caught Galante and other gang members attempting to hijack a truck in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In the ensuing gun battle, Galante wounded Meenahan and a six-year-old bystander, both survived. On February 8, 1931, after pleading guilty to attempted robbery Galante was sentenced to 12 and a half years in state prison. On May 1, 1939, Galante was released from prison on parole. While Galante was in prison he was given an IQ test that revealed he had a lame IQ of only 90, which, even though Galante was well into his twenties, equated to a mental age of 14-years-old. Dr. Baker, who carried out the examination, also stated that Galante was shy, had no knowledge of current events or any items of common knowledge. Galante was also showing the early signs of gonorrhea, probably incurred at one of the many brothels controlled by the mob.
By 1940, Galante was carrying out "hits" for Vito Genovese, the official underboss of the Luciano crime family. There is no record of the exact date, but Galante was inducted as a member of the Bonanno crime family in the early 1940's under boss Joseph "Bananas" Bonanno, whom he would eventually come to know and respect. Galante was believed to have been a soldier in the crew of Frank Garafolo. Galante had an underworld reputation for viciousness and was suspected by the New York Police Department (NYPD) of involvement in over eighty murders.
In February of 1941, Galante obtained membership in Local 856 of the Longshoreman's Union, where he ostensibly worked as a " stevedore." In 1943, Galante allegedly murdered Carlo Tresca, the publisher of an anti-fascist newspaper in New York. Genovese, living in exile in Italy, offered to kill Tresca as a favor to Italian President Benito Mussolini. Genovese allegedly gave the murder contract to Galante. On January 11, 1943, Galante allegedly shot and killed Tresca as he stepped outside his newspaper office in Manhattan, then got in a car and drove away. Although Galante was arrested as a suspect, no one was ever charged in the murder. After the Tresca murder, Galante was sent back to prison on a parole violation. On December 21, 1944, Galante was released from prison. On February 10, 1945, Galante married Helena Marulli in New York.
Galante went from being chauffeur of Bonanno family boss, Joseph "Bananas" Bonanno to capo and then underboss. He was said to have been loyal to Bonanno and often spoke of him with great admiration. They also shared a common enemy, Carlo Gambino of the Anastasia crime family. Galante was said to be a willing confederate in Bonanno's grand plan to expand the crime family's interest south to Florida, the West Coast, the Caribbean and north into Canada. Galante won a reputation with other mobsters as being "as greedy as Joe Bananas".
In 1953, Bonanno sent Galante to Montreal, Quebec to supervise the family drug business there. In Canada, Galante took future Hamilton crime boss Johnny Papalia under his wing and also worked closely with Vic Cotroni, the Mafia boss of Montreal. The Bonanno's were importing huge amounts of heroin by ship into Montreal and then sending it into the United States. In 1957, due to Galante's strong-arm extortion tactics, the Canadian Government deported him back to the United States. Galante allegedly became underboss of the family in 1955.
In October 1957, Bonanno and Galante held a hotel meeting in Palermo, Sicily on plans to import heroin into the United States. Attendees included exiled boss Lucky Luciano and other American mobsters, with a Sicilian Mafia delegation led by mobster Giuseppe Genco Russo. As part of the agreement, Sicilian mobsters would come to the U.S. to distribute the narcotics. Galante brought many young men including Gambino crime family soldier Joseph LoPicollo, known as Zips, from his family home of Castellammare del Golfo, Trapani, to work as bodyguards, contract killers and drug traffickers. These Sicilian criminals had Galante's total trust and confidence.
In 1958, after being indicted on drug conspiracy charges, Galante went into hiding. On June 3, 1959, New Jersey State Police officers arrested Galante after stopping his car on the Garden State Parkway close to New York City. Federal agents had recently discovered that Galante was hiding in a house on Pelican Island off the South Jersey shore. After posting $100,000 bail, he was released. On May 18, 1960, Galante was indicted on a second set of narcotics charges; he surrendered voluntarily.
Galante's first narcotics trial started on November 21, 1960. From the beginning, the first trial was characterized by jurors and alternates dropping out and coercive courtroom displays by the defendants. On one occasion, Anthony Mirra (who was said to have killed 30-40 people) became so unhinged, that he picked up a chair and flung it at the prosecutor. The chair missed him and landed in the jury box, forcing the frightened jurors to scatter in all directions. On May 15, 1961, the judge declared a mistrial. The jury foreman had fallen down some stairs at his house and was unable to continue the trial due to injury. Galante was sentenced to 20 days in jail due to contempt of court. On July 10, 1962, after being convicted in his second narcotics trial, Galante was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. Carmine served his sentence in high level security prisons amongst the meanest and toughest criminals in the country (including some time on Alcatraz) but even behind bars Galante showed authority. It didn't take long for everyone to know who he was and to be careful not to cross him. On one occasion, a whole line of inmates was gathered near the phone to have a weekly call. Galante entered the room, walked straight over to the phone and reportedly ordered a black inmate "Give me the phone, nigger", without hesitation or retaliation by others, he got it.
It was a relief to most other New York families, if not to Bonanno himself, when Galante was sent to prison. In 1964, Bonanno further enraged the other mobs by plotting to eliminate most of the governing leadership of the rival families, which led to the famous "Banana War" that ended in the ruination of Bonanno’s plans and his hopes to install his son as the successor as head of the crime family. Meanwhile, Galante plotted his strategy behind bars. He regarded no one in the Bonanno family as his equal and looked forward to accomplishing what his old boss had failed to do. Mainly, as he told others in the federal penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, he would "make Carlo Gambino shit in the middle of Times Square."
Power grab Edit
In 1964, Joe Bonanno and his ally, Profaci/Colombo crime family boss Joseph Magliocco, unsuccessfully plotted to murder three rival members of the Mafia Commission. When the plot was discovered, the Commission ordered Bonnanno to retire. Over the succeeding 10 years, Bonanno tried to install his son Salvatore Bonanno as boss while the Commission tried to run the family with a series of ineffectual bosses.
While in prison, Galante made it known that when he got out of prison he was going to take control of the New York Mafia by the throat. In January 1974, Galante was released from prison on parole. A few days after his release from prison, Galante allegedly ordered the bombing of the doors to the mausoleum of his enemy Frank Costello, who had died in 1973.
In November 1974, the Commission designated Phillip Rastelli as the new official boss of the Bonanno family. However, Rastelli was soon sent to prison and Galante seized effective control of the family. As a former underboss, Galante considered himself the rightful successor to Joe Bonanno. During the late 1970s, Galante allegedly organized the murders of at least eight members of the Gambino crime family (one of those murdered was Joseph LoPicollo), with whom he had an intense rivalry, in order to take over a massive drug-trafficking operation. Galante took the unusual step of surrounding himself with Sicilian born Mafiosi like Cesare Bonventre, Salvatore Catalano and Baldassare Amato. Galante was also reportedly the sponsor and mentor of prominent Bonanno family mobster Frank Mari, who disappeared in the late 1960s during the "Banana war". During this time Galante continued to be heavily involved in the heroin trade.
On March 3, 1978, Galante's parole was revoked by the United States Parole Commission and he was sent back to prison. Galante had allegedly violated parole by associating with other Bonanno mobsters. After Carlo Gambino's death in 1976, Galante figured he had the muscle to push the other crime family bosses into the background. Everyone was afraid of Galante whether he was on the street or behind bars and he was dreaded by the mafia underworld. From prison he sent out the message to the other New York Mafia bosses, "Who among you is going to stand up against me?".
On February 27, 1979, a judge ruled that the government had illegally revoked Galante's parole and ordered his immediate release from prison. By this stage, Galante was bald, bespectacled and had a stooped walk. Like Vito Genovese before him, Galante envisioned himself as "Boss of All Bosses," and it was only a matter of time before the other bosses cowered before Galante and handed him the title.
The New York crime families were alarmed at Galante's brazen attempt at taking over the narcotics market. Galante also refused to share any drug profits with the other families. Although Galante was aware that he had many enemies, he said, "No one will ever kill me, they wouldn't dare". While Galante swaggered around the streets of New York City, the other bosses held a meeting in Boca Raton, Florida, deciding Galante's fate. At this meeting were Funzi Tieri, Gerardo Catena, Paul Castellano and Florida boss Santo Trafficante, Jr. These powerful men voted unanimously, if mob peace was to exist in the streets of New York City, Galante had to go. Rastelli, who was still in jail, was consulted, and even the aged Joe Bonanno, living in Arizona, was asked if he had any reservations at his former close associate being hit. Both Rastelli and Bonanno signed off on Galante's murder contract, and Galante's days were numbered.
On July 12, 1979, Galante was assassinated just as he finished eating lunch on an open patio at Joe and Mary's Italian-American Restaurant at 205 Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Galante was dining with Leonard Coppola, a Bonanno capo, and restaurant owner/cousin Giuseppe Turano, a Bonanno soldier. Also sitting at the table were Galante's Sicilian bodyguards, Baldassare Amato and Cesare Bonventre. At 14:45, three ski-masked men entered the restaurant, walked into the patio, and opened fire with shotguns and handguns. Galante, Turano, and Coppola were killed instantly. Galante's death picture showed a cigar still in his mouth. Amato and Bonventre, who did nothing to protect Galante because they were in on the hit, were left unharmed. The gunmen then ran out of the restaurant.
The "hit" became an instant media sensation. Albert Davila, a Daily News reporter at the time, was sent to cover the story and was one of the first reporters at the scene. Police wouldn't allow him to enter the restaurant so he climbed onto the building's rooftop to get a bird’s eye view of the courtyard where New York's most notorious mobster lay dead.
"The first thing I noticed was the cigar in his mouth," Davila wrote in a column a few days after the incident. "How odd, I thought, he still has the damn cigar in his mouth. He was looking up at the sky, one eye blown away and flies covering his face. Not even Hollywood could think of a better ending."
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York refused to allow a funeral mass for Galante due to his notoriety. Galante's body was laid out in the Provenzano-Lanza Funeral Home at 43 Second Avenue on the Lower East Side. The crowds that usually accompany a Mafia wake of this kind were notably absent. Galante was buried on July 17th at Saint John's Cemetery in Queens. With the Feds doing the counting, only 59 people attended Galante's funeral mass and burial. The Feds also reported that not one Mafia made man was captured on surveillance cameras, either at the wake, or at the funeral.
One FBI agent commented of the sparse turnout, "Galante was so bad, people didn't want to see him, even when he was dead."
In 1984, Bonventre was found murdered in a New Jersey warehouse, allegedly to guarantee his silence in the Galante murder. On January 13, 1987, Anthony Indelicato was sentenced to 40 years in prison, as a defendant in the Commission trial, for the Galante, Coppola, and Turano murders.
Popular culture Edit
Although never mentioned by name, Galante is referenced twice in the movie Donnie Brasco. Galante first appears as a cigar-smoking character known as "The boss". Later in the film, Galante's murder is reported on the front page of a newspaper. Mobster Benjamin Ruggiero points to the story and says, "Can you believe it? The fuckin' boss gets whacked!"
The HBO show The Sopranos refers to Galante's assassination in the episode "A Hit Is a Hit". Boss Tony Soprano is playing golf with his neighbor, Dr. Bruce Cusamano. After someone asks Cusamano if he ever saw the picture of the dead Galante with a cigar hanging from his mouth, Cusamano describes the murder as a "f*ckin' beautiful hit".
Galante features in the first episode of the UK history TV channel Yesterday's documentary series Mafia's Greatest Hits.