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The Story of New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello - Final part

By Thom L. Jones

Read the first page of this story here

When Carlos went off to prison in April 1983, he left a ship that was drifting. He lost most of his political influence almost immediately after he was behind bars and no one was able to replicate his drive and energy; his imprisonment and ongoing illnesses severely handicapped his ability to act as a de facto boss.

His brother Joe, long the family's underboss, lacked the energy and ambition to manage an enterprise as complicated and diverse as the one Carlos had controlled for almost forty years. He himself had only recently been under pressure as a result of an investigation. In June 1982, he was indicted on charges of lying to a grand jury investigating the killing of a Texas judge. Joe had been overheard on a BRILAB tape discussing his involvement in the killing of Judge John H. Wood, Jr., who was shot dead outside his San Antonio home on May 29th, 1979.

Three years later, Charles V. Harrelson (the father of movie and television star Woody Harrelson) was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The murder contract had been placed by Texas drug czar Jimmy Chagra, (awaiting trial before the judge, notorious for his heavy sentencing on drug traffickers,) who was close to the Marcello family. Chagra's wife, Elizabeth had allegedly handed over $250,000 in cash to Harrelson to carry out the murder.

Harrelson has always been identified as the tall man in the famous photograph of the three so-called "tramps" who were arrested in the railway yard behind Dealey Plaza, shortly after President Kennedy was shot. When he was arrested for the judge's murder, he confessed to the participating in the Kennedy assassination. He later retracted his statement, saying he made it under the influence of drugs.

Joe Marcello (left) decided to dedicate most of his time and effort into the business that had always interested him the most, the restaurant trade. He owned La Louisianne, one of the top eating houses in The French Quarter, and also a big, noisy restaurant-come-night club called Lenfants, near Metaire, on the outskirts of mid-city New Orleans.

Vincent Marcello (right) devoted his efforts to running the family's slot machine business, the Jefferson Music Company, aided by brothers Sammy and Anthony. Elder brothers, Peter and Pascal went more or less out of circulation, and drifted into retirement.

Joseph "Little Joe" Marcello, the only son of Carlos, had apparently never shown any disposition to be involved in the Mafia clan his father had controlled. He had become a multimillionaire in his mid-twenties through asset transfers from his father and seemed content to lead the life of a rich, indulged observer.

One-eyed Pete Marcello, in his seventies, sold out his interests in his Bourbon Street clip joints, and retired to a house in Gretna, where Carlos had begun his rise to fame, all those years ago.

In February 1988, Sammy, then aged 58, was indicted by a New Orleans Grand Jury for participating in a multi state money-laundering operation used to conceal profits from drug trafficking.

Anthony Carolla, long cherishing the role as boss of the Louisiana Mafia, apparently got his way in 1991, appointing Frank Gagliano as his under boss.

By 1986, the New Orleans French Quarter, once a huge source of income for Carlos, was firmly under the control of Frank Carraci and Nick Karno, and neither of them was answering to Marcello. Carraci had been a mid-level operator in the organization running strip joints in this area, and he was also involved in extensive gambling operations in Louisiana and Texas. Not only were these two men operating as independents, they were also encouraging the participation into their domain of people like John Gotti, head of the powerful Gambino family of New York, and Nicodemo Scarfo, the homicidal maniac who had taken over the Philadelphia Mafia in 1981.

According to information collected by FBI wiretaps, representatives of the Philadelphia family contacted aging mobster Frank Gagliano, the under boss to Carolla, for permission to move into casino-styled gambling operations and cocaine trafficking.

"Sure, go ahead," Gagliano is supposed to have said, "come on in. You won't get any problems from the Marcellos. They're finished. They don't mean nothin' around here any more."

On June 1st, 1994, newspaper headlines read: "Video Poker Raids net 17. Skimming Plot by Mob Alleged."

Members of the Marcello crime family and the New York Gambino and Genovese Mafia families had been arrested, following an FBI/Louisiana State Police mounted operation that had lasted two years. In a series of predawn raids, suspects were arrested in Louisiana, New York and Florida. The racketeering charges alleged that the three crime families were involved in establishing and controlling two businesses known as Worldwide Gaming of Louisiana, Inc, and Louisiana Route Operators, Inc. These companies were licensed to sell, distribute and receive revenues from video poker machines in Louisiana. The mobsters were aiming to skim funds collected from these machines, before taxes were due, and to funnel this money into their own crime families.

Among those arrested were: Anthony Carolla and Frank Gagliano, boss and no two man in the Marcello family, Joe Marcello Jr., Joe Gagliano, son of Frank, and family capo, Sebastian Salvatore. Two powerful members of the Gambino family, Joseph Corozzo and John “Johnny Slick” Gammarano were also indicted. For Corozzo it was a double blow, as he had apparently been nominated, approved and was about to be "raised" to replace imprisoned John Gotti, as head of the family. Within a year they had all been tried and convicted.

In June 1995, Gagliano's son Joseph pleaded not guilty to cheating the President Casino out of $520,000 by using marked cards at a blackjack table. He was aided by five other men in this scam, some from out of state.

On Saturday, June 12th, 1999, Joseph Marcello Jr., died of congestive heart failure in the New Orleans Memorial Medical Center. He was 75. He had been sentenced to thirty-three months in prison for his part in the Worldwide Gaming indictment. He was also charged with tax evasion, and sentenced to thirty months on that one. He served his sentences concurrently and was released in July 1998.

As the twentieth century dawned, the Louisiana Mafia was consolidating and strengthening its position, quietly laying a foundation for Matranga and his successors to build upon. They had learned their lesson in 1891, and made sure that their activities would be low key. It was for instance only in 1951 with the Kefauver hearings, that Carlos Marcello and his activities were partially revealed to an unsuspecting America. Matranga, Carolla and Marcello also saw the benefits to be obtained by controlling not only the criminal landscape of New Orleans and Louisiana, but also the political establishment. The family's strength grew exponential to its ability to corrupt. Under Marcello, it was also truly a '"family" business with all seven brothers holding down senior management positions, in what was after all one of the smaller Mafia clans in America. Nowhere else in the country, with the exception of Detroit, did so many family related members control the destiny of a crime group of its size for so many years.

It was undoubtedly the family ties that helped keep Marcello in power for so long. Informants or those aspiring to the seat of power never threatened his safety and power base.

Anthony Carolla had to wait twenty-five years to assume command, following that meeting in New York in 1966.

The last one hundred years have seen the dramatic rise, and equally ineluctable fall of the American Mafia. Its demise was unavoidable, in that the powerhouse that drove it had to run out of steam at some time. As organized crime became a subject of media generated investigation and hype, it also became politically expedient for governments to pursue and try and slay the dragon by using senate investigative committees, which in turn galvanized law enforcement agencies into action. The FBI, long a bystander in the wings, became committed to the fight after the Valachi disclosures in 1963, and the die was cast for the Mob.

The last thirty years have seen a massive growth in the number of indictments and successful prosecutions carried out on Mafia families and their administrations. At the same time, the level of leadership has deteriorated badly, leaving once powerful organized crime units vulnerable and susceptible to attack from not only law enforcement, but emerging criminal enterprises, such as biker gangs, Triads and other Asian groups, drug cartels from South America, the Russian Mafia bands, as well as the dynamic growth of Serbian and Albanian mobsters working as organized crime groups.

A Mafia organized cheating scheme carried out in The President Casino, Biloxi, Mississippi, resulted in the arrest and conviction of 7 members and associates of the old Marcello Family, and four others involved in a video poker scam. They were sentenced in 1996 to prison terms of from 18 months to 9 years.

Anthony Carolla died in 2007, and Frank Gagliano a year earlier. It’s rumored his son, 60 year old Joseph, is in charge of whatever remains of the dislocated and fragmented Mafia that exists in and around The Big Easy. He was imprisoned until at least May 2017 on a charge of possessing an illegal firearm. If he’s out, maybe he’s back at work as a grocer, which he claimed to be.

Joseph, the only son of Carlos, seems to be the one earning big time. Never part of that “other” family, he is a multi-millionaire with investments everywhere.  Back in 1996, one of his many companies, West Bank Landfill, earned almost $5 million for two years landfill fees from the council.  Apparently, the single biggest landowner in Jefferson Parrish, he recently sold a part of Churchill Farms for $13.6 million. The land was about one third of his remaining holding.

If the Mafia is all about money, Joseph C. Marcello, son of Carlos, has made the heavyweight league, but at least he did it the legitimate way. Maybe he has his father’s genes? Maybe his name helped?

Way back in June 1969, FBI Special Agent John C. McCurin sent into his boss, J. Edgar Hoover, a report on the New Orleans Mob. On page 9 he stated:

“NO 1734-PC (an informant) advised that CARLOS MARCELLO can read words in English.but has difficulty in putting phrases and. sentences together and, therefore, relies entirely on PHILLIP SMITH for direction and guidance. MARCELLO. has recently instructed SMITH to tutor JOE C. MARCELLO in the handling of real estate matters, but JOE C. MARCELLO is not overly intelligent and probably, in NO 1734-PC' s opinion, will not be able to grasp the intricacies of real estate transactions.”

Someone was seriously wrong there. Then again, hindsight is a wonderful thing. 

Or perhaps it was something so much more simple.

As Robert Browning, the famous English poet said:

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,

  Or what’s a heaven for?”

As an example of Marcello’s cunning, political clout and total control and manipulation of the so-called forces of law and order, this article from LIFE Magazine, 1970 (abridged,) says it all:

“Marcello essentially owned the state revenue department.” The magazine documented that there had been no collection of Marcello’s taxes from 1962 to 1970, and that at one time, the tax director kept the Marcello file locked in a drawer marked, ‘Hold Action.’ The article also claimed that at least four high-ranking state officials were on Marcello’s payroll.

“In his real estate activities, Marcello was a master at combining illicit money, the cooperation of public officialdom, and ‘legitimate’ investment. In 1958, as an instance, he was able to sell an 183-acre tract of land that had recently been valued at $40,000 for nearly $1 million. The huge profit was accomplished through a complex structure involving nine front companies, and the co-operation of local tax authorities.

Marcello’s piece de resistance in real estate is his 6,000-acre Churchill Farms development. It is a classic example of how the Little Man works. In 1959, Marcello bought the land for about $1 million. It was not top rate, primarily delta swamp and pastures. But properly drained and diked, it could be worth $60 million or so. While claiming the land as a hunting preserve, Marcello set about acquiring those improvements – at the taxpayers’ expense. In a flagrant display of political clout, he convinced Jefferson Parish and state authorities to declare the area an official drainage district, thereby affording Churchill Farms its own taxing authority.

When the appropriate levee construction and pump installation were completed, Marcello had increased the value of the swamp property by 6,000 percent. Cost to taxpayers: $5 million. Cost to Marcello: $264 a year in drainage tax. Future value of the land $50-100 million.”

No Mafia boss in America came even close to Marcello in terms of wealth and power. Not Charlie Luciano, or Frank Costello, or Vito Genovese or Al Capone or Carlo Gambino or John Gotti. Nobody.

And then there was John F. Kennedy.

The End

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