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Joe Valachi

Joseph Valachi (September 22, 1903 – April 3, 1971) (aka Joe the Rat, Joe Cargo, Joe Cago, Charles Chanbano and Anthony Sorge) was a member of the Genovese crime family and the first Mafia member to ever publicly acknowledge the existence of the Mafia. He is also the person who made Cosa Nostra (meaning "our thing") a household name.

Biography Edit

Valachi was the son-in-law of Gaetano Reina after he married Reina's oldest daughter Mildred, over the objections of his baby. Valachi's motivations for becoming an informer have been the subject of some debate. Insanity ran in his family, with four of his brothers and sisters winding up in mental institutions, and two committing suicide.

On February 3, 1931 Valachi was involved along with Sebastiano Domingo aka Buster from Chicago in mortally wounding Joseph Catania aka "Joe Baker" an underboss to Joe "the Boss" Masseria during the Castellammarese War. {See http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6205334}

In October 1958, Valachi (a "soldier" in New York City's powerful Genovese crime family, whose primary "job" within the family was that of a driver) had testified before Arkansas Senator John L. McClellan's congressional committee on organized crime that the Mafia did exist. Although the low-ranking Valachi's disclosures never led directly to the arresting of many Mafia leaders, he was able to provide many details of its history, operations and rituals, aiding in the solution of several uncleared murders, as well as naming many members and the major crime families. His testimony, which was broadcast on radio and television and published in newspapers, was devastating for the mob, still reeling from the November 14, 1957, Apalachin Meeting where state police had accidentally discovered several Mafia bosses from all over the United States meeting at the Apalachin, New York, home of mobster Joseph Barbara. After the Apalachin exposures and Valachi's testimony, the mob was no longer invisible to the public.

Kiss of death and Government WitnessEdit

Valachi claimed to be testifying as a public service and a way to expose a powerful criminal organization that he blamed for ruining his life, but it is also possible he was simply hoping for US government protection to avoid the death penalty for a murder he committed on June 22, 1962. This murder, done with a lead pipe, was of a man in prison whom Valachi had mistaken for a Mafia hitman he thought was coming to kill him in the prison yard (Valachi and Vito Genovese were both serving a sentence for heroin trafficking in the same prison). Vito Genovese allegedly gave Valachi what he referred to as "the kiss of death", a kiss on the cheek and soon thereafter Valachi suspected that Genovese had ordered him killed because the powerful mob boss believed Valachi was an informant and had betrayed him to the authorities in exchange for a lighter prison sentence, thus violating the strict Mafia oath of Omertà (silence) which traditionally was punishable by death.

After the U.S. Department of Justice first encouraged and then blocked publication of Valachi's memoirs, a biography heavily influenced by those memoirs and by interviews with Valachi was written by journalist Peter Maas and published in 1968 as The Valachi Papers, forming the basis for a later movie of the same title starring Charles Bronson as Valachi. Valachi also reportedly inspired the characters of Willi Cicci and Frank Pentangeli in the hit film The Godfather Part II (1974). In 1966, Valachi attempted to hang himself in his prison cell, using an electrical extension cord.

Valachi feared for his life until his dying day and was under watch by armed guards. Valachi once stated before the Senate Committee, "Senator, this here what I'm exposing to you and the press and everybody: i need go no further to say; that this is my doom"

After Valachi turned government witness, Genovese put out a $100,000 contract on his head to anybody that would kill the rat Valachi.

Valachi died of a heart attack in 1971 at La Tuna Federal Correctional Institution in Texas, having outlived his nemesis Vito Genovese by two years. The $100,000 bounty placed on Valachi's head by Genovese went uncollected.

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