Giuseppe Profaci was one of the five original New York mob bosses, leading what would become known later as the Colombo crime family of La Cosa Nostra. His tenure spanned several decades and countless violent incidents, including a Mafia uprising within his own family.
Born in the Sicilian village of Villabate on October 2, 1897, Profaci quickly took to a life of crime. According to mob historian Thomas Hunt, Profaci was sent to prison late in 1920 after he was found guilty of "forgery with intent to defraud." His family was involved with the Villabete Cosa Nostra clan.
Once he got out from prison, Profaci decided to try his luck in the country of endless opportunities: The United States of America. He arrived in New York City in 1921 and eventually settled in Chicago. After several years in which he ran a grocery store and bakery, he decided to return to New York. Back in the Big Apple, he began an olive oil import business.
He also got involved with the city’s criminal element, specifically the Sicilian gangsters in Brooklyn, a borrow where relatives of the Magliocco clan were already well-established. Within a very short period of just three years since returning to New York, Profaci emerged as a leader while other powerful Mafia figures in Brooklyn were murdered.
His promotion as boss notwithstanding, these were violent and uncertain times for New York’s Italian mobsters as two bosses fought to control it all. In 1930, Salvatore Maranzano and Giuseppe Masseria turned the city into a warzone in what became known as the Castellammarese War.
While all the smaller families had to choose sides and pick up guns, Profaci took on a different role. According to Joseph Bonanno, who was a close friend of Profaci and himself a Mafia boss, “Profaci’s sympathies were with the Castellammarese [led by Maranzano], but his Family would never take part in the war directly,” Bonanno wrote in his autobiography. “Maranzano urged Profaci to remain officially neutral and to act as an intermediary with other groups.”
When the big war ended, Maranzano came out on top. But only for a short time. He was considered out of touch with his troops and a faction led by Charles “Lucky” Luciano organized his demise and subsequent murder. Where Maranzano had placed himself at the head of the table as boss of bosses, Luciano opted a different approach, dividing the New York underworld into five different families led by five bosses who held total control over their family and affairs.
Giuseppe “Joe” Profaci was one of these five original bosses, alongside Luciano, Bonanno, Vincent Mangano, and Tommaso Gagliano. These men all had a seat on the Commission, a governing body that oversaw mob operations in the United States, and included several crime families from other American cities.
The year was 1931, and life was good. These were the golden years for the mob. Profaci raked in money from illegal gambling, extortion, loansharking, and drug trafficking. He also had his legitimate businesses, including a very successful olive oil company, which earned him the nickname “The Olive Oil King” and would later serve as inspiration for Mario Puzo’s The Godfather in which character Vito Corleone runs an olive oil import business, called Genco Olive Oil, as well.
By the 1950s, however, times had changed. Authorities turned on the heat and Profaci was fighting the IRS over unpaid taxes and US Immigration Services who tried to revoke his citizenship. The bomb burst into the open when Profaci was among dozens of other Mafia leaders arrested in Apalachin, where he attended a meeting of mobsters from all over the country.
Read: Mob Meeting at Apalachin
If that wasn’t enough, the sixties arrived. Depending on who you ask, those were either the best or worst years of their life. For Profaci they were the worst and his last.
His underlings were beginning to grumble. They were unhappy with how much money they earned, chief among them Joseph Gallo, a soldier who operated out of Red Hook, Brooklyn. In February of 1961, Gallo and his crew did something that was so ballsy, no one saw it coming.
They kidnapped several men who were very close to Profaci. Though it remains sketchy as to who exactly were kidnapped, several names pop up frequently. They were: Profaci’s right-hand man Joseph Magliocco, his brother Salvatore "Frank" Profaci, John Scimone, Sally "The Sheik" Mussachio, and Joseph Colombo. They also tried to kidnap Profaci himself, but he managed to escape and flee to Florida, while his family was undergoing a civil war.
Profaci was seething. But like any Sicilian Mafioso worth his salt, he didn’t act like it. He began negotiations with the Gallo crew, promising them more money and operations. At the same time, he got one of Gallo’s crew members, Carmine Persico, to switch sides. Persico then helped Profaci set up Joe Gallo’s brother Larry by luring him to a bar where he was to be strangled to death. As the rope cut tight around Larry Gallo’s throat, a cop walked by the bar and interrupted the hit attempt, saving Gallo’s life.
From that point on both sides were fighting each other out in the open. They “went to the mattresses,” as they say. Armed soldiers drove around the city looking for their rivals.
Meanwhile, the war caused loss of income and stress for the other families as well. At a Commission meeting, the other bosses told Profaci about their concerns. Carlo Gambino urged Profaci to step down as boss and retire to put an end to the unrest within his family. Gambino was supported by Gaetano Lucchese.
Profaci, however, was angered by their proposal. As was his close ally Joseph Bonanno. Faced with an all-out mob war between four families, Gambino and Lucchese backed down and Profaci continued as boss.
Around this time, Profaci was already very ill. He had liver cancer and knew time was running out. While the war raged on, he died on June 6, 1962, in South Side Hospital in Bay Shore, New York. The Gallos were no longer his problem, but would continue to cause plenty of headaches for several of his successors in the years to come.
Thanks to Thomas Hunt for his help with this profile.
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