Frank "Blinky" Palermo (1905-1996) was an organized crime figure who controlled prize-fighters and fixed fights. He is best known for fixing the Jake LaMotta-Billy Fox fight in 1947, which was immortalized in Martin Scorsese's movie Raging Bull. Palermo was an associate of the Philadelphia crime family and also ran Philadelphia's biggest numbers racket. Blinky's partner was mobster Frankie Carbo, a soldier in New York's Lucchese crime family who had been a gunman with Murder, Inc.
Criminal career Edit
In addition to Billy Fox, the professional fighters that Palermo owned outright or under the table included World Welterweight champion Virgil Akins, number three-ranked heavyweight contender Clarence Henry, World Welterweight Champion Johnny Saxton, heavyweight contender Coley Wallace, and Lightweight Champion Ike Williams. Palermo would cheat members of his stable out of their share of the purses of their fights.
The Observer once published an article stating:
"...Frankie Carbo, the mob's unofficial commissioner for boxing, controlled a lot of the welters and middles.... Not every fight was fixed, of course, but from time to time Carbo and his lieutenants, like Blinky Palermo in Philadelphia, would put the fix in. When the Kid Gavilan-Johnny Saxton fight was won by Saxton on a decision in Philadelphia in 1954, I was covering it for Sports Illustrated and wrote a piece at that time saying boxing was a dirty business and must be cleaned up now. It was an open secret. All the press knew that one - and other fights - were fixed. Gavilan was a mob-controlled fighter, too, and when he fought Billy Graham it was clear Graham had been robbed of the title. The decision would be bought. If it was close, the judges would shade it the way they had been told."
Unlike other boxers exploited by Palermo, Johnny Saxton expressed loyalty to him. A statement issued in 1955 declared:
"Since my first professional fight in 1949 Frank Palermo has been my manager, friend, and adviser. He has been honest and trustworthy in every dealing we have had during my career. I now hold the welterweight championship of the world. I am going along with Palermo."
After having his property seized by the IRS, Saxton wound up penniless. While being treated at a state mental hospital after being arrested for robbery in his retirement, he said, "I was supposed to have got big money from fighting on TV, but I never saw it. No one ever gave me more than a couple of hundred dollars at a time."
By 1959, Blinky and his partner Frankie Carbo, owned a majority interest in the contract of heavyweight boxer Sonny Liston, who went on to win the World Heavyweight Championship in 1962. From the start of his pro career in 1953, Liston had been "owned" by St. Louis crime family mobster John Vitale, who continued to own a stake in the boxer. At the time Palermo and Carbo acquired their interest in Liston, the notorious Carbo was imprisoned on Riker's Island, having been convicted of the undercover management of prize-fighters and unlicensed matchmaking.
According to both FBI and newspaper reports, Vitale and other mobsters "reportedly controlled Liston's contract", with Vitale owning approximately twelve percent.
Liston fought 12 fights under the control of Carbo and Palermo.
Senate investigation Edit
In 1960, Palermo and Carbo, who had just been released from jail after serving time for managing boxers without a license, were subpoenaed to appear before Senator Estes Kefauver's investigation committee into Mob control of boxing. Palermo pleaded the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying, as did Carbo, who took the Fifth 25 times. Kefauver recommended that Palermo and Carbo be cited for Contempt of Congress.
The following year, Palermo and Carbo, along with Los Angeles crime family mobsters Joseph Sica and Louis Tom Dragna, were charged with conspiracy and extortion against National Boxing Association Welterweight Champion Don Jordan. After a three-month trial, in which U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy served as prosecutor, Carbo and Palermo were sentenced to 25 years in prison. Palermo served more than seven years behind bars.
After his release from prison, Palermo gradually faded away from the organized crime scene and died of natural causes in 1996.