Dropping out of school at the age of fourteen, Carlos Marcello began to spend more of his time with people with whom he dealt at the fruit markets along Decatur Street. He found it easy to adapt to their ways and began his school of learning in criminality by studying the seasoned hoods and street punks who worked the fringes of the Mafia. When he reached the age of eighteen, Carlos was ready to fly on his own.
He left the family nest in their rambling home in Algiers and moved into a $2 a week room in the French Quarter. In 1929, he and three of his street hooligan friends robbed a bank in Algiers not far from his father's West Bank farm. (The West Bank is the name given to the area south and west of New Orleans City which includes Jefferson Parrish the largest of the eight metro districts.) Joseph agreed to hide their stolen proceeds on the farm, but for some reason, younger brother Peter went to the local police and informed on Carlos. He and his father were arrested, however, their money returned in full, the bank did not press charges and they were never prosecuted.
In the months that followed, Carlos recruited two young thugs, one aged sixteen and one thirteen, and under his guidance, they robbed a grocery store owned by a Chinese trader. The money was to finance the purchase of firearms to use on another proposed raid on the same bank. Carlos perceived it to be an easy target and had been encouraged in the face of the bank's failure to prosecute him the last time. However, before the planned robbery could be carried out, a clerk from the grocery store spotted the two young accomplices on a street in Algiers. Arrested by the police, they gave up Carlos and he was arrested. On May 28, 1930, he was sentenced to serve nine to twelve years in the dreaded state prison in Angola. Here he gets the nickname “Fagin” after the character in Dickens's novel Oliver Twist.
His father worked tirelessly to get him released, and after serving only four years of his sentence, Carlos was out of prison. The fix had gone in, first through a member of the state legislature, and then a mysterious power broker called Peter Hand, a member of the Louisiana's State Legislature, who wielded a lot of influence with Governor O. K. Allen, who eventually issued the pardon. Hand operated at least two illegal bookmaking operations, so may well have touched base with Marcello this way.
The manipulation of politicians and senior officers in the local government of Louisiana would be a trademark of Carlos Marcello in the years that lay ahead, as he built up and consolidated his power base in what was one of the most corrupt political arenas in America.
Out of prison at the age of twenty-four, Carlos found his brothers and sisters were all growing up and shaping their own lives. His father Joseph had expanded his interests outside of the farm into shrimping, a business dominated by those men affiliated to the Mafia. Shrimping had always been a staple of the Sicilian agricultural economy and the mobsters of Louisiana were quick to seize the opportunities present in such an important industry that generated its activities in the nearby Gulf of Mexico.
As soon has he had built up enough capital, Carlos used some of it to make a down payment of $500 on a rundown bar in Gretna, the Jefferson Parish county seat. It may have been located at 2010 O’Connor Street, although Parrish records indicate it could also have been located on Romain Street. Frequented almost entirely by black workers, Carlos renamed the bar "The Brown Bomber" in honor of the Negro heavyweight champion, Joe Louis. Carlos brought in his brother Peter, now a handsome, well-built young man of twenty-two, to manage it.
Gretna, was in those days, a seedy community on the west bank of the Mississippi, operating under a corrupt police force and an equally corrupt council, all of who were in the pocket of the Mafia. To visitors, it offered gambling halls and whorehouses, drug dens and bars that stayed open all hours and catered for anyone, of any age. At one time, there were seven illegal gambling casinos on Huey P. Long Avenue, literally flanking the Gretna Police Headquarters.
The Brown Bomber soon established a reputation as a good place to score drugs, drink and gamble around the clock. If customers got unruly and obstreperous, Carlos personally threw them out on their ear. Although he never grew any taller than five- feet- two inches, he was built like an oak stump, and developed the reputation as a fearsome brawler. He paid off the local Mafioso who controlled the block on which his bar was located and through him, kept the police at bay.
Joining the Mafia brotherhood
By the age of twenty-five, Carlos was a "made" member of the Mafia. He had linked up with Frank Todaro, a capo or crew chief, in the Matranga crime family and was sponsored by him into "the honored society." Carlos' sister Mary, now aged nineteen, became the best friend of Todaro's niece Jacqueline, who was a bridesmaid at her wedding to Sam Loria, an honest businessman. As a result, Carlos, the best man at the wedding, met Jacqueline and fell head over heels in love with her. After a brief courtship, they married on September 6th, 1936.
Their first home was a small apartment above the liquor store that Carlos owned on Teche Street in Algiers. His new wife ran the business, while Carlos and brother Peter devoted all their time and energy to The Brown Bomber.
The Mafia in Louisiana was much more loosely structured than its counterpart families that had emerged in Chicago, New York and the other large industrial cities to the north. Those organizations were constructed along strict hierarchic lines of management control, with a pyramid of power that worked down from a family boss to the street soldiers. To avoid problems and mediate on territorial disputes, these Mafia clans answered to a ruling body called the Commission, a kind of arbitration court made up of the heads of the more powerful families. The Louisiana Mafia operated along different lines. It was more a spontaneous grouping of individual entrepreneurs, linked sometimes by family ties, but not always. In many ways it more resembled the Sicilian Mafia than its American counterparts. The only one operating in the area, it did not have to worry about territorial disputes, and so could concentrate energy and activities on its real purpose, to make money. Many members of the Louisiana Mafia operated their own businesses and ran with a degree of autonomy that was unheard of in the other similar crime groups that had developed across America.
Early in 1937, Carlos and brother Vincent, now approaching eighteen, set up a business, a pinball and jukebox-distributing outfit they called the Jefferson Music Company. Soon, they were strong-arming their way into bars and restaurants in Algiers. Running the bar, the liquor store and the gaming machine company was not enough to satisfy Carlos' need for cash. He saw the huge profits to be made in drug trafficking. Starting in a small way in 1935, by the end of 1937, he and four partners had built up what the Federal Narcotics Bureau described as: "one of the major marijuana rings in the New Orleans area."
In March 1938, an undercover drug agent posing as a dealer bought twenty-three pounds of marijuana from Carlos, and then arrested him on the spot. On Saturday October 29th, 1938, Carlos pleaded guilty before Judge Ruffs E. Foster and was sentenced to a year and one day in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary; he was also fined $76,830. He settled for this with a token payment of $400 on the plea that he was a pauper. Again, strings were pulled, and he was released after nine months; again, being pardoned by the ever generous governor, O.K. Allen.
Back in business, Carlos devoted most of his time to his jukebox business. Aided by Frank Todaro and his men of the family, the two brothers saw their business move into a boom mode. And then along came Frank.
One thousand four hundred and six miles to the north east of New Orleans is New York. Here five Mafia families were masters of their universe. Charles "Lucky" Luciano ran the largest of these crime confederations. His right hand and trusted aide was Frank Costello, a man whose talents lay more in diplomacy than destruction, so much so, that he became known as "The Prime Minister of the Mob." Costello, the son of poor immigrants from Naples, had grown up on the Lower East Side and, at the age of sixteen, had hit the streets as a petty criminal. By 1935, he was forty-four years old and at the peak of his career, helping to manage and control one of the biggest criminal fraternities in the United States.
By 1933, among his many business interests, he controlled a major section of the slot machine business in the New York metropolitan area. It was a business that generated hundreds of thousands of dollars each month; it also generated a lot of competition-associated violence and created the need for massive police corruption to maintain its momentum.
On December 31st, 1933, a feisty, five-feet-two fat man with a squeaky voice was elected mayor of New York. Fiorello LaGuardia may have looked and sounded comical, but his actions were anything but. An Italian-American, fiercely proud of his ancestry and heritage, he despised the Mafia and what it stood for. One of his first actions on assuming office was to instigate a war on crime, and he went after professional gamblers with a vengeance, saying in a radio broadcast: "Let's drive the bums out of town."
The removal and destruction of pinball and slot machines became a priority for LaGuardia's administration and Costello's business came under their scrutiny. Although Supreme Court judge Selak B. Strong issued an injunction forbidding the police from seizing Frank's slot machines, LaGuardia simply ignored it and had the machines seized anyway.
By 1935, Frank's machines were either confiscated and destroyed or off the streets and stored away in warehouses in New Jersey to save them from the ax. For Costello, it must have been like owning a string of racehorses and not being allowed to run them. Salvation came in the form of an invitation to move his machines south of the Mason-Dixie line to Louisiana. It came from Huey Pierce Long, the corrupt ex-governor of the state. One of the most colorful and dangerous men to ever march across the American political scene, The Kingfish, as he was often called, had become friends with Costello on one of his many trips north. They first met apparently, to discuss the slot machine business in 1934, at The New Yorker Hotel, although they had been connected before then. Details of their relationship are not clear, although many theories have been suggested for the friendship that developed between them. Just how the invitation was set in place is also unknown, but by the spring of 1935, Costello had at least one thousand machines in place in and around New Orleans.
This was all done with the cooperation of many people. First there were the minions of Long and their contacts at city and state political levels. Then the police had to be looked after and, last but not least, the local Mafia family had to be involved. Frank Costello ensured the safety of his share in the deal by using one of his trusted aides, Philip Kastel. Also known as "Dandy Phil," he was a New York confidence man who had enjoyed a full and varied career by the time he came down to New Orleans to manage the operation for Costello. At 49, he was the perfect man for the job. A gifted organizer and master corrupter, much of the credit for the success of the operation belonged to him.
"Dandy Phil" worked closely with James Brocatto, an ex-bodyguard of Huey Long, who was also associated with the New Orleans mobsters. Using his influence and contacts, Frank's slots soon found good homes in and around the French Quarter. By 1940, Costello was ready to expand out into the West Bank, and he and Kastel sat down for a meeting with Carlos. It was agreed that the Jefferson Music Company would install and service 250 machines for a fee of two thirds of the gross; the rest disappearing into one of Costello's newly formed enterprises The Louisiana Mint Company.
Carlos was a tireless operator and soon had all the slots in place, pumping out money on a daily basis. They were located in bars, whorehouses, restaurants and gambling dens across Algiers and Gretna. It was during this period that Carlos became close friends with the Gretna chief of police, Beauregard Miller, one of the many important people he would come to nurture over the years to come. He would feed him huge dollops of cash from time to time, amounts as high as $50,000, ensuring his support and co-operation in the free running of his many criminal enterprises in Jefferson Parish. Carlos also began to look after himself and his family. By 1941, there were two young daughters added to the family and they all moved from the cramped apartment above the liquor store, into a two-story house in Gretna.
America was at war in 1941. Although brothers Peter and Vincent went off to fight for their country, Carlos, who had never become a U.S. citizen, stayed at home. There were many black- market opportunities to be exploited in and around the Port of New Orleans, and he and his other family, the Mafia, were making the most of them. His reputation as a tough guy and an enforcer grew; there were rumors of violence, extortion, even murder. The bayous of Louisiana were vast and deep, and many people vanished into them forever.
One of them was Constantine Masotto. On the run from a New York crime family, he fled to New Orleans. He had been a soldier in the D’Aquila Mafia Family (now known as The Gambinos) and for some reason had murdered his sister in July, 1942. The police were keeping a watch on his movements, when he suddenly disappeared. About a year later, his skeletal remains were found buried in a swamp behind a tavern owned by Marcello. An FBI report concluded, based on their evidence and an informant's tip-off, that Masotto had been beaten to death by Marcello and his body dumped into a tub of lye. This was one of many murders of which Marcello was suspected and never convicted.
Although he was only in his early thirties, Carlos had become a seasoned veteran and a highly respected earner for the mob. He was a man to be reckoned with, even though people called him "Little Man."
In 1944 Frank Costello, along with Meyer Lansky, the Jewish alleged arch manipulator of mob finances, Kastel and A.G. “Freddie” Rickerfor, a state legislator and well-known political fixer, opened a night-club-gambling casino and called it the Beverley Club. It was situated in the old Suburban Gardens nightclub on River Road in Jefferson Parish. Carlos was brought in as a shareholder. Some sources claim he was given 12.5% for nothing, others that he purchased 20% for $45,000. Whatever the deal, the "Little Man" was now moving into big company. He was 35 years old and playing in the premier league.
The Beverley Club opened in December 1945 and was an immediate success. People flocked into its palatial dining rooms, bars and gaming rooms, and soon it established a nightclub where it hosted major entertainers of the day, people such as Jimmy Durante and Joe E. Lewis.
Carlos was appointed manager of the club and, along with his brothers Anthony and Peter, was also becoming more involved in managing the gambling operations of Frank Costello. Jefferson Parish police were recruited to act as doormen and bouncers. New Orleans police had long maintained an unenviable reputation as some of the most corrupt law enforcement officials in America and "detailing," as they referred to moonlighting jobs, had always been a major part of their income. One New Orleans chief of detectives, John J. Grosch, was found to have a safe deposit box containing $150,000. This was in 1940. His salary at the time was $186 a month.
To keep the wheels of his organization running smoothly, Carlos built up his chain of influential contacts. Along with Miller, he also had sheriff Frank "King" Clancy, head of the Jefferson parish police, in his pocket. Thirty years down the track, the FBI would tape Marcello boasting of his largess: "I used to give them all cash money...I'd go out in the morning with my pants full...I took care of everybody." It was believed that he had a special foot-length pocket sewn into the left legs of his trousers, which he would stuff full of "traveling money." Clancy claimed that he did not enforce gambling laws in his parish because more than 1000 people, many of them old and underprivileged, were employed by the casinos. Closing gambling down would have thrown these people out of work and cost the parish and the state a lot of welfare money. Naturally this kind of altruism did have its reward. Clancy retired a very rich man.
By 1947, Carlos was active in many business ventures. He and brother Vincent were building up the Jefferson Music Company to include services for racetrack gamblers. He joined forces with a senior family member, Joe Poretto, to take over the largest racing wire service in Louisiana, and he was also plowing his profits into West Bank real estate. He and Jacqueline now had four children and they had moved in 1946, into a new home at 800 Barataria Drive in Marrero, an upmarket suburb eleven miles south west of New Orleans. It cost him $42,500.00.
Carlos Marcello was reaching the peak of his career. He had many and varied businesses; he controlled police and politicians; he was respected to the extent that the governor of the state would seek his counsel; and he was becoming widely known among the important Mafiosi across the country who would come to regard him in due course as one of the strongest and most powerful of their tradition.
There was one thing he did not yet have, but achieving it was only months away.
Since the death of Police Chief Hennessey, the Louisiana Mafia had grown and blossomed under at least two, possibly three leaders. Carlo Matranga had undoubtedly led the family into the twentieth century. He ruled until the early 1920's when he stepped down and retired. He died at the age of 86 on October 28th, 1943. At this point, his place was taken either by Corrado Giacona (sketch on the right) or Sylvestro (Sam) Carolla. A study of Mafia history confirms a frustrating amount of misinformation in respect to people, places and dates. Police and federal agencies have consistently made mistakes in identifying mobsters and their pecking order within the ever-changing groups that made up the mob. At times, the real boss of a crime family would deliberately step back into the shadows and let someone else shoulder the publicity and notoriety. This could have been the case with the New Orleans mobsters. Giacona is an enigma. The organized crime intelligence and analysis unit of the FBI identified him as the head of the family and they may well have substantial files on him, but most, if not all, of this has not been disclosed.
There is another interesting fact about him. He may well have been the first victim of a drive-by shooting in America. It happened on a warm night in June 1908 as he and his father sat drinking wine on the front porch of their home at 1113 Chartress Street in the “Vieux Carre” section of New Orleans. A horse and cart rumbled by and a gunman fired at the two men, the shots going wild and digging into the front of the building. The gunman rushed off at about four miles an hour.
Giacona, born in 1877 in Sicily, came to America at the age of eight. If he was indeed leading the family by 1922 when Matranga is supposed to have retired, the street boss of the family may have been Carolla. In 1944 when Giacona died his place was taken (perhaps) by his underboss, Frank Todaro, He only lasted six months, dying of throat cancer in November that year.
Carolla (right), a swarthy, sleepy-eyed hood, had spent a two-year spell in jail for murdering a federal narcotics agent in1932. The sentence had been abruptly terminated with an early release from the ubiquitous Governor O.K. Allen, by appointment, pardoner to the mob. Sam made his fortune smuggling booze and drugs during the 1920s and 30s, and reached a position of such power, he was controlling the municipal government through bribery and corruption. He was low-key and his name did not appear in any newspaper until 1923. Because he had never taken out citizenship, however, he became vulnerable to deportation proceedings. They dragged on for years, but eventually, he was convicted and flown out of the country on May 30, 1947 to relocate in Sicily, his birthplace.
As Carolla was counting down his last days in America, Marcello was working the family members, promoting himself as the natural successor. He had emerged among the capis, or crew chiefs, who ran the organization, as the most probable candidate. His wealth was growing at a remarkable velocity. Money was pouring in from narcotics, gambling, the slot machines and his racing wire service. He opened a casino, calling it the New Southport Club on the East Bank at 1300 Monticello Road, off the Mississippi River Road near the New Orleans Jefferson Parish line. It soon became enormously popular and hugely profitable.
No one in the crime family could match his personal magnetism, energy or ambition. Most of all, in an organization that fed on fear and greed, no one in the ranks could inspire as much terror as he could. Politicians and gangsters alike treated Carlos with the respect paid to a man who should not be crossed. Washington lobbyist, Irving Davidson, a friend and business associate of Marcello said: "Look, when you deal with him, remember that loyalty and trustworthiness are everything to him. If you violate that, you can expect the worst to happen to you." As he said this, he slowly drew a finger across his throat.
Late in the evening of May 5th, 1947, a group of men gathered together in a room at the back of The Black Diamond, on North Galvez Street, a nightclub in a seedy part of New Orleans that catered almost exclusively for black people. The mob used this for a rendezvous in the belief that it would reduce the chance of surveillance. On this particular night, they were wrong and agents of the FBN (Federal Bureau of Narcotics) were checking out the expensively dressed white men who disembarked from limousines at the rear of the club and disappeared inside.
Among those noted here that night, were Tom Rizzuto, Nick Grifazzi, Frank Lombardino, Joe Capro and Anthony Carolla, son of Sam; also along were Joe Poretto, Nofio Pecora, and Carlos with brothers Vincent, Joseph, Peter and Anthony. Jake and Nick Marcello, Carlos' nephews were also at the party. Although supporters of Anthony Carolla put forward his name, they were outvoted by Carlos' men, and by the time the meeting was over, he was the newly appointed head of the Louisiana Mafia.
Although the Bureau of Narcotics was on his trail, at this point in time, the FBI was not. Sixteen years later, on July 11th, 1963, an FBI report suggests that Marcello was not the boss of New Orleans. Someone else was.
His name was Leoluca Trombadore. Born in Corleone, Sicily, in March 1888, he emigrated to America, arriving in New York in 1907 when he was 19. He moved to Louisiana when he was in his mid-twenties, married, had a daughter, was known by everyone as “Mr. Luke,” and lived in New Orleans until he died there, in 1957. He was a second cousin to Giuseppe Morello, the New York-based head of what we know today as the Genovese Crime Family. If Trombadore was the boss, he kept a low profile, and there is little, if any, empirical evidence to support the claim.
Brothers Joe and Vincent were made into the family. Joe (left) became the underboss and Vincent (right) was a feared street soldier. The other four brothers may have been Mafiosi or maybe stayed as associates. There is no evidence to confirm this, although a number of sources claim Salvatore “Sammy” Marcello was a soldier in the family and often acted as the bodyguard and driver to his big brother. Fifteen months after Marcelo’s elevation to the head of the Louisiana Mafia, the FBI began to track his activities and his name appears for the first time in an FBI file on October 15th, 1948.
Anthony never forgot his displacement from what he obviously believed was his rightful ascension, and nineteen years later would bring his grievance up before a national Mafia Commission meeting at a restaurant in New York.
Continue reading Out of Africa: The Story of New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello
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