The Colombo crime family is the youngest of the “Five Families” that dominates organized crime activities in New York City, United States, within the nationwide criminal organization known as the Mafia (or Cosa Nostra).
In 1928, Joseph Profaci formed the Profaci crime family. Profaci would rule his family without interruption or challenge until the late 1950s. The family has been torn by three internal wars. The first war took place during the late 1950s when capo Joe Gallo revolted against Profaci. The first war lost momentum in the early 1960s when Gallo was arrested and Profaci died of cancer. The family then came together under boss Joseph Colombo. In 1971, the second family war began after Gallo’s release from prison and the shooting of Colombo. Colombo supporters led by Carmine Persico won the second war after the exiling of the Gallo crew to the Genovese family in 1975. The family would now enjoy over 15 years of peace under Persico and his string of acting bosses.
In 1991, the third and bloodiest war erupted when acting boss Victor Orena tried to seize power from the imprisoned Carmine Persico. The family split into factions loyal to Orena and Persico and two years of mayhem ensued. In 1993, with 12 family members dead and Orena imprisoned, Persico was the winner more or less by default. He was left with a family decimated by war. In the 2000s, the family was crippled by multiple convictions in federal racketeering cases and numerous members becoming government witnesses. Most observers believe that the Colombo crime family is the weakest of the Five Families of New York City.
In September 1921, Joseph Profaci arrived in New York City from Villabate, Sicily, Italy. After struggling in Chicago with his businesses, Profaci moved back to Brooklyn in 1925 and become a well known olive oil importer. On September 27, Profaci obtained his American citizenship. With his olive oil importing business doing well, Profaci made deals with friends from his old town in Sicily and one of his largest buyers was Tampa mobster Ignazio Italiano. Profaci controlled a small criminal gang that operated mainly in Brooklyn. The dominant Cosa Nostra groups in Brooklyn were led by Salvatore D’Aquila, Frankie Yale, Giuseppe Masseria, and Nicola Schirò.
On July 1, 1928, Brooklyn mobster Frankie Yale was murdered by Chicago Outfit boss Al Capone’s hit-men. Capone murdered Yale because Yale refused to give Capone, a Neapolitan, control over the Unione Siciliana fraternal association. Yale’s murder allowed Profaci and his brother in-law Joseph Magliocco to gain territory for their small gang. Profaci’s gang gained territory in Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, Red Hook and Carroll Gardens while the rest of Yale’s group went to the Masseria family.
On October 10, 1928, the capo di tutti capi, Salvatore “Toto” D’Aquila, was murdered, resulting in a fight for D’Aquila’s territory. To prevent a gang war in Brooklyn, a Mafia meeting was called on December 5, 1928, at the Statler Hotel in Cleveland, Ohio. The site was chosen because it was neutral territory outside New York under Porrello crime family control and protection. The main topic was dividing D’Aquila’s territory. Attendees representing Brooklyn included Profaci, Magliocco, Vincent Mangano (who reported to D’Aqulia family boss Alfred “Al Mineo” Manfredi), Joseph Bonanno (who represented Salvatore Maranzano and the Castellammarese Clan), Chicago mobsters Joseph Guinta and Pasquale Lolordo, and Tampa mobster Ignazio Italiano. At the end of the meeting, Profaci received a share of D’Aqulia’s Brooklyn territory, with Magliocco as his second-in-command.
The Castellammarese War
Months after the D’Aquila murder, Joe Masseria began a campaign to become Capo di tutti capi (‘Boss of Bosses’) in the United States demanding tribute from the remaining three Mafia groups in New York City which included the Reina family, the Castellammarese Clan and the Profaci family. Castellammarese Clan boss Salvatore Maranzano began his own campaign to become ‘boss of bosses’, this started the Castellammarese War. Masseria along with his allie Alfred Manfredi, the new boss of the D’Aquila family ordered the murder of Gaetano Reina. Masseria believed that Reina was going to support Maranzano to become the new ‘boss of bosses’. On February 26, 1930, Gaetano Reina was murdered and Masseria appointed Joseph Pinzolo as the new boss of the Reina family. During the war Profaci remained neutral, while he secretly supported Maranzano.
The Castellammarese War ended when Charles “Lucky” Luciano, a Masseria lieutenant, betrayed him to Maranzano. Luciano set up the murder of Masseria on April 15, 1931. Maranzano then became the new Capo di tutti capi in the United States. Within a few months, Maranzano and Luciano were plotting to kill each other. On September 10, 1931, Luciano had Maranzano killed and created the Mafia Commission. Now there would be five independent Cosa Nostra families in New York City and twenty one additional families across the United States that were regulated by a supreme Commission in New York. Profaci and Magliocco were confirmed as boss and underboss, respectively, of what was now known as the Profaci crime family.
First Family War (1960-1963)
Joseph Profaci had become a wealthy Mafia boss and was known as “the olive-oil and tomato paste king of America”. One of Profaci’s most unpopular demands was a $25 monthly tribute from every soldier in his family. In the late 1950s, capo Frank “Frankie Shots” Abbatemarco became a problem for Joe Profaci. Abbatemarco controlled a lucrative policy game that earned him nearly $2.5 million a year with an average of $7,000 a day in Red Hook, Brooklyn. In early 1959, Abbatemarco, with the support of Gallo brothers and the Garfield Boys, began refusing to pay tribute to Profaci. By late 1959, Abbatemarco’s debt had grown to $50,000 and Profaci allegedly ordered Joe Gallo to murder Abbatemarco. However, other versions of the story indicate that Gallo played no part in this murder. In return for Abbatemarco’s murder, Profaci allegedly agreed to give the Gallos control over Abbatemarco’s policy game. On November 4, 1959, Frank Abbatemarco walked out of his cousin’s bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn and was shot and killed by Joseph Gioielli and another hitman. Profaci then ordered the Gallos to hand over Abbatemaro’s son Anthony. The Gallos refused and Profaci refused to give them the policy game. This was the start of the first family war. The Gallo brothers and the Garfield boys (led by Carmine Persico) were aligned against Profaci and his loyalists.
Colombo and Italian American Civil Rights League
The Commission rewarded Colombo for his loyalty by awarding him the Profaci family, which he renamed the Colombo family. The 41-year-old Colombo was the youngest boss in New York at the time. He was also the first boss to have been born and raised in the United States.
Along with former Gallo crew member Nicholas Bianco and New England family boss Raymond Patriarca, Colombo was able to end the war. As a reward for his loyalty, Bianco was made into the Colombo family. As boss, Colombo brought peace and stability to the broken crime family. However, some Cosa Nostra bosses viewed Colombo as Carlo Gambino’s “puppet boss” and felt he never deserved the title. Colombo’s leadership was never challenged due to his support from Carlo Gambino. In 1968, Gallo crew leader Larry Gallo died of cancer.
In 1969, Colombo founded the Italian-American Civil Rights League, dedicated to fighting discrimination against Italian-Americans. Many mobsters disapproved of the League because it brought unwanted public attention to the Cosa Nostra. Colombo ignored their concerns and continued gaining support for his league. On July 28, 1970, Colombo held the first league demonstration, a big success. In 1971, months before the second demonstration, the other New York bosses ordered their men to stay away from the demonstration and not support Colombo’s cause. In a sign that the New York bosses had turned on Colombo, the league’s chief organizer, chief organizer Gambino family capo Joseph DeCicco, resigned ostensibly due to ill health. In 1971, Joe Gallo was also released from prison. At the time of his release, Gallo said the 1963 peace agreement did not apply to him because he was in prison when it was negotiation.
Second Family War (1971-1975)
On June 28, 1971, Colombo held the second League demonstration at Columbus Circle in Manhattan. As Colombo prepared to speak, an African-American man, Jerome Johnson, walked up to Colombo and shot him in the back of the head three times; seconds later, Colombo’s bodyguards shot Johnson to death. The shooting did not kill Colombo but left him paralyzed and permanently incapacitated for the last seven years of his life; he died of natural causes on May 22, 1978. Although many in the Colombo family blamed Joe Gallo for the shooting, the police eventually concluded that Johnson was a lone gunman. Regardless, the Colombo shooting triggered the Second Colombo war.
Colombo’s Consigliere Joseph Yacovelli became the family acting boss, and he directed a new campaign to murder Joe Gallo and his crew. On April 7, 1972, acting on a quick tip, four gunmen walked into Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy and killed Joe Gallo as he was dining with his family. Looking for revenge, Albert Gallo sent a gunman from Las Vegas to the Neopolitan Noodle restaurant in Manhattan, where Yacovelli, Alphonse Persico, and Langella were dining one day. However, the gunman did not recognize the mobsters and shot four innocent diners instead, killing two of them. After this assassination attempt, Yacovelli fled New York, leaving Carmine Persico as the new boss.
The Second Colombo war continued on and off for the next several years. In 1975, the Gallo faction itself split into two groups that started fighting each other. To finally resolve the conflict, the New York families negotiated an agreement in which Albert Gallo and his remaining crew left the Colombo family and peacefully joined the Genovese family. The Gallo wars were finally over.
The family under Persico
Following the high-profile media exposure of Joseph Colombo and the murderous excesses of Joe Gallo, the Colombo family entered a period of comparative calm and stability. With Colombo in a coma, the family leadership went to Thomas DiBella, a man adept at evading the authorities since his sole bootlegging conviction in 1932. However, DiBella was unable to prevent the Gambino family from chipping away at Colombo rackets, and the Colombos declined in power. Poor health forced DiBella to retire in 1977, and Colombo died in 1978. The Colombo family was facing another power vacuum.
During the 1970s, Carmine Persico had grown in stature within the family and was considered to be the clear successor as boss. However, Persico had spent much of this time in prison, and it was unclear if he could effectively rule the family from prison. Nevertheless, Persico took control, designating Gennaro “Jerry Lang” Langella as his street boss until his release in 1979. In 1986, both men were convicted on massive Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges in the Mafia Commission Trial and sentenced to 100 years. In a separate RICO trial related only to the Colombos, Persico was convicted with several other family heavyweights and sentenced to 39 years in prison.
Mafia historian and New York Times organized-crime reporter Selwyn Raab later wrote that the Colombos were damaged more than any other family in the long term as a result of the Commission Trial. Raab pointed out that although Persico had been in charge of the family for 14 years prior to his conviction, he was only 53 years old at the time and “at the peak of his abilities.” In contrast, the other New York bosses were in their seventies and likely would have ceded power to mafiosi of Persico’s generation in any event. Knowing that there was virtually no chance that he’d ever be free again, Persico named his older brother, Alphonse “Ally Boy” Persico, as acting boss to ensure the family’s ill-gotten profits would still flow to him. However, Allie Boy skipped bail on loansharking charges a year later. Persico then named Victor Orena as the new acting boss. It was understood that Orena was merely keeping the boss’ chair warm for Alphonse “Little Allie Boy” Persico, Carmine’s son, who had also been convicted in the 1986 “Colombo Trial.”
Third Family War (1991-1993)
Orena, an ambitious capo from Cedarhurst, was initially content with serving as acting boss. By 1990, however, Orena had come to believe Persico was out of touch and causing the family to miss out on lucrative opportunities. He was also alarmed at Persico’s plans for a made-for-television biography, fearing that prosecutors could use it as evidence in the same way they had used Joe Bonanno’s tell-all book as evidence in the Commission Trial. He therefore decided to take over the family himself. Using his strong ties to Gambino boss John Gotti, Orena petitioned the Mafia Commission to declare him the official boss of the Colombo family. Unwilling to cause more conflict, the Commission refused. Orena then instructed consigliere Carmine Sessa to poll the capos on whether Orena should become boss. Instead, Sessa alerted Persico that Orena was staging a palace coup. On June 21, 1991, an enraged Persico sent gunmen under Sessa’s leadership to murder Orena at his house. However, Orena managed to escape before the gunmen could strike. The third Colombo war had begun.
Twelve people, including three innocent bystanders, died in this gang war. More than 80 made members and associates from both sides of the Colombo family were convicted, jailed or indicted. These included Persico’s brother Theodore “Teddy” Persico and his son Alphonse Persico, DeRoss, and Orena’s two sons, Victor, Jr. Orena and John Orena. While both sides appealed to the Commission for help, the war continued. On November 1991, Gregory Scarpa, a Persico loyalist, was driving his daughter and granddaughter home when several Orena gunmen ambushed them. Scarpa and his relatives managed to escape.
The war continued until 1992, when Orena was convicted on massive RICO charges and sentenced to 100 years in prison. As it turned out, the real winners in the war were federal prosecutors. They had initially made little headway in their efforts to undermine the gang. As the war raged, though, at least 12 members turned informer, mostly to save their lives. The highest-profile member to flip was the consigliere, Sessa. With their help, 58 soldiers and associates—42 from the Persico faction and 16 from the Orena faction—were sent to prison. George Stamboulidis, who prosecuted most of the cases arising from the war, later said that the two years of bloodletting helped prosecutors destroy the family from within. He credited the large number of informers with helping them to build big cases sooner than they would have otherwise been able to. Raab later wrote that Persico’s attempts to keep control of the family from prison nearly destroyed it.
While the Colombo war raged, the Commission refused to allow any Colombo member to sit on the Commission and considered dissolving the family. Lucchese underboss Anthony Casso proposed to merge the family with his own to end the war, while in 2000 plans were proposed to split its manpower and resources among the remaining families. In 2002, with the help of Bonanno family boss Joseph Massino, the Commission finally allowed the Colombos to rejoin them.
The family after Third Colombo War
With Orena out of the picture, Persico designated his son Alphonse as acting boss. “Little Allie Boy” officially took over after his 1995 parole, but didn’t rule for long. In 1999, he was arrested in Fort Lauderdale after being caught in possession of a pistol and shotgun; as a convicted felon he was barred from carrying guns. Shortly afterward, he ordered the murder of underboss William “Wild Bill” Cutolo, a supporter of Orena during the Third Colombo War. Cutolo’s son, vowing revenge, offered to wear a wire and pose as a prospective Colombo associate. Based on evidence from this wire, Little Allie Boy was indicted on RICO charges. Realizing he stood no chance of acquittal, he pleaded guilty to the state charges in February 2000 and to the RICO charges in December 2001. In 2004, Alphonse Persico and Underboss John “Jackie” DeRoss were indicted for the Cutolo murder. In December 2007, both men were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Family consigliere Joel “Joe Waverly” Cacace took over running the family until 2003 when he was imprisoned on murder and racketeering charges.
The family then came under the influence of Thomas “Tommy Shots” Gioeli, who took over as street boss. In June 2008, Gioeli, underboss John “Sonny” Franzese, former consigliere Joel Cacace, captain Dino Calabro, soldier Dino Saracino and several other members and associates were indicted on multiple racketeering charges which included loan sharking, extortion and three murders dating back to the Colombo Wars. If convicted, they are all facing life sentences.
After Gioeli was imprisoned, Ralph F. DeLeo, who operated from Boston, Massachusetts, became the family’s street boss. On December 17, 2009, the FBI charged DeLeo and Colombo family members with drug trafficking, extortion and loansharking in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Florida and Arkansas.With DeLeo’s imprisoned, Andrew “Andy Mush” Russo, once again took control of the family. On January 20, 2011, street boss Andrew Russo, acting underboss Benjamin Castellazzo, consigliere Richard Fusco, and others were charged with murder, narcotics trafficking, and labor racketeering. In September 2011, Castellazzo and Fusco pleaded guilty to reduced charges. In December 2011, is was revealed that capo Reynold Maragni wore a wire for the FBI and gained information about Thomas Gioeli’s role in the 1999 murder of William Cutolo.