Frank "The Primeminister" Costello was the boss of the Luciano family (later known as the Genovese family) from 1947 until 1957. He was one of the founding members of the commission and was known for his close ties inside New Yorks political environment.
Frank Costello was born Francesco Castiglia in Lauropoli, Calabria, Italy in 1891 and came to New York in 1895 alongside his mother and brother, Edward. Here they joined his father again who had immigrated a couple of years prior. Living in New York's East Harlem, Francesco's brother introduced him to gang activities and Francesco became a member of a local gang by the age of 13. He continued to commit petty crimes, and in 1908 and 1912, Frank spent time in jail for the crimes of assault and robbery. In 1915, at the age of 24, he served 10 months in jail after being caught carrying a concealed weapon. Just before his 1915 prison sentence, Francesco married the sister of a close friend, a Jewish girl by the name of Lauretta Giegerman. After being released from prison, young Frank decided he would never return to prison and would use his brain instead of weapons. Forgoing the usual route of adhering to violence as a quick and easy means to success and wealth, he did not see the inside of a jail cell for the next 37 years.
A young Costello
After his release from prison in 1916, Frank Castiglia began an association with Ciro Terranova, a powerful Harlem mafioso.
Terranova was a leading figure of the Morello gang and the leader of a group of criminals known as the 107th Street gang.
Frank became the member of a gang that controlled the gambling, extortion, loansharking, robbery and narcotics in Manhattan and the Bronx and
included mafiosi as "Trigger" Mike Coppola, Joseph
Catania and Stefano LaSalle. Frank became well known for being smart and tough, always rising to the occasion when handed a job to do. Around the same time that he was working for the Terranova gang, Castiglia met and teamed up with Salvatore Luciania, the Sicilian leader of Manhattan's Lower East Side gang. The two Italians hit it off and together with other young Italians, such as Vito Genovese,
and Jewish associates Meyer Lansky and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, the gang became involved in robbery, theft, extortion, gambling and narcotics. The Lucania-Castiglia-Lansky alliance continued to prosper and by 1919 and the arrival of Prohibition. the gang began their own bootlegging operation. The success of the young Italians allowed them to become associates of the Jewish crime kingping Arnold Rothstein.
Rothstein became a mentor to Castiglia, Lucania, Lansky and Siegel while they conducted bootlegging business
with Bronx beer baron Dutch
Schultz. In 1922, Castiglia,
Lucania and their closest Italian associates became members of Giuseppe Masseria, who had taken over the Morello Gang. By 1924, Frank Castiglia expanded his connections and became a close business associate of Hells Kitchen's Irish crime boss William Dwyer and English gangster Owney Madden. He became deeply involved in their rumrunning operations, known as "The Combine," during Prohibition. This gave Castiglia the motivation to change his last name to the more Irish sounding "Costello", while at the same time Salvatore Lucania became known as Charles "Lucky" Luciano.
Prime Minister of the Underworld
In 1926, Combine leader William Dwyer was convicted of bribing a coast guard official and sentenced to 2 years in jail. After Dwyer was imprisoned, Frank Costello stepped up to take over the Combine's operations with Owney Madden. This caused friction between Madden and a top Dwyer lieutenant, Charles "Vannie" Higgins. Higgins, referred to as Brooklyn's "Last Irish Crime Boss", believed he was the one who should be running the Combine, not Costello. Thus, the Manhattan Beer Wars began between Higgins and Costello, Madden and Dutch Schultz. Eventually, the Costello-Madden-Schultz alliance was destroyed by New York's underworld. However, all three of them continued to be very influential gangsters throughout the 1920's.
Costello eventually became known as the "Prime Minister of the Underworld" for his cultivation of associations and business relationships with New York's criminals, politicians, businessmen, judges and police officials. As Frank Costello followed the "Big Three" ideology of mixing crime, business and politics Costello's underworld influence grew and he was considered by his fellow gangsters as an important link between the Mafia and the politicians of Tammany Hall, New York's Democratic Party organization, giving Costello and his close associates, including Luciano the opportunity to pay off and buy the loyalty and favors of politicians, judges, district attorneys, cops, city officials and whoever else they needed to buy in order to run their criminal operations without law enforcement interference. In 1927, Frank Costello, Charlie Luciano and former Chicago boss, John Torrio organized a group of the East coast's leading rumrunners into a bootlegging operation that pooled their Canadian and European liquor sources, maximized profit, minimized overhead and gave them a big advantage over their competition, the group became known as the "Big Seven Group". From May 13-16, 1929 Frank Costello, Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, Johnny Torrio, Meyer Lansky and Atlantic City and South Jersey crime boss, Enoch "Nucky" Johnston hosted a crime convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey which included the members of the "Big Seven Group" and the top crime leaders from across the United States representing their crime groups.
This was considered one of the first true underworld meetings and the biggest step in forming a national crime syndicate.
By 1928, Frank Costello and Charlie Luciano were considered two young, ambitious and powerful gangsters on the rise, but an internal conflict in the Italian underworld looked to sidetrack Costello and his closest associates. Costello's and Luciano's boss, Giuseppe Masseria was coming into conflict with the Castellammarese community from Brooklyn
and it's leader Salvatore Maranzano. On October 10, 1928, Masseria eliminated his Brooklyn rival Salvatore D'Aquila and with this also proved he was superior. However, the Castellammarese, who were former D'Aquila associates, were soon going to change New York for good. Joe Masseria was becoming an underworld dictator with demands of absolute loyalty and obedience from the other 4 mafia families which operated in New York City. The war was at it's height from 1930 till 1931 and was dubbed the Castellammarese War. Many influencial and respected mobsters were killed in and outside New York. The war finally came at it's end when Masseria was murdered at a Coney Island restaurant. The murder was orchestrated by Luciano and his most trusted men, such as Lansky and Costello, who had descided it would be better to align themselves with Maranzano, who was at the winning side.
Salvatore Maranzano was victorious and briefly held the title of boss of bosses untill September 10, 1931, when he was killed in his 9th floor Helmsley Building office in Manhattan by Jewish gunmen posing as IRS agents. This hit was also the work of Luciano. The shooters allegedly included Schultz gang lieutenant, Abraham "Bo" Weinberg and Murder Inc. gunman, Samuel "Red" Levine.
After the death of old world mafia bosses, Joe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano in 1931, Luciano made his two close associates, Vito Genovese and Frank Costello leading figures of his organisation, called the Luciano family. Costello became the Consigliere of the family and Vito Genovese was made the Underboss. Frank Costello was know one of the top gangsters in New York and he quickly began to carve out a specific niche in the underworld for himself. Costello came to control the slot machine and bookmaking operations of the Luciano crime family along with associates Philip "Dandy Phil" Kastel and Frank Erickson. Frank Costello placed approximately 25,000 slot machines in the bars, restaurants, cafes, drug stores, gas stations and bus stops throughout New York city, but in 1934, mayor Fiorello LaGuardia confiscated thousands of Costello's slot machines and sent them off a barge and into the river. Frank Costello's next move was to accept Louisiana governor, Huey Long's proposal to allow Costello's slot machines into the state of Louisiana for 10% of the take. Frank Costello placed Phil Kastel as the overseer of the Louisiana slot operation along with New Orleans mafioso, Carlos "Little Man" Marcello who knew every place in New Orleans to place one of Costello's "one arm bandits". Frank Costello continued to bring in millions of dollars in profit from his slot machine and bookmaking operations, Costello and Frank Erickson, the overseer of Costello's bookmaking operations are credited with starting the layoff and odds systems used by bookies and gamblers all across North America.
Without Charles Luciano
In 1936 Charles Luciano was convicted of running a large scale prostitution ring and was sent to Dannemora prison for 30-50 years.
He attempted to rule his family from prison with the help of his top men but being so far removed from the streets of New York, he did the smart thing and named an acting boss. Luciano's first choice was his second in command, Vito Genovese, but by 1937 Genovese was indicted for murder and fled to his hometown of Naples, Italy to avoid prosecution. The departure of Genovese left Frank Costello in firm control of the Luciano family and with the help of his top capos, Joe Adonis, Anthony Carfano and Michael Coppola the family ran smoothly and undeterred. The period in which Costello ran Luciano's family was a most profitable one, with rackets from coast to coast (slots in New Orleans with Carlos Marcello, gambling in Florida with Meyer Lansky, illegal race wires with Bugsy Siegel in L.A., national bookmaking with Frank Erikson) aside from running the family, and having more political strength than any mobster in the United States. Frank Costello was a popular and well liked boss, who shared the profits made by the crime family's operations and did not demand a large cut of his underlings criminal earnings as he was making millions a year from his rackets and legitimate investments which included real estate and stocks. He expanded the crime family's operations to include casinos in Las Vegas and Cuba, but one area Costello always stayed clear of throughout his criminal career was narcotics, he was a firm believer that the mafia did not need narcotics to make money unlike his associate Vito Genovese, who was a known drug dealer throughout his criminal career.
During WWII Charlie Luciano allegedly helped the United States military by protecting the New York waterfront from sabotage through his control of the docks and he was alleged to have a hand in helping the Allied invasion of Sicily by contacting Sicilian mafia boss, Calogero Vizzini and getting him to assist the allies during the invasion. For his assistance Luciano's prison sentence was commuted (it was said to be a frame up) and he was deported to Italy in 1946. In the same year, former Luciano underboss, Vito Genovese was arrested in Naples for running a Black market network that sold American army surplus and extradited back to the United States to face his 1937 murder charge for ordering the death of Ferdinand Boccia. Frank Costello allegedly helped Vito Genovese beat his charges and avoid prosecution by having the witness to the 1937 murder poisoned while he was in protective custody awaiting the trial. Vito Genovese had been harboring ill feelings towards Frank Costello for roughly 10 years, since he fled to Italy in 1937, feeling he was the rightful heir to the Luciano family empire and not Costello who had led the crime family with Lucky Luciano's support for the last decade.
Now that Vito Genovese was back in New York and
free from prosecution he began a campaign to regain the family leadership from Costello, the first method he used was to obligate family soldiers to his cause by lending them money or by doing them favors that would have to be returned at some point. The resentment Vito Genovese felt for Frank Costello was multiplied by the fact that upon his return from self-imposed exile he was no longer one of the top bosses in the crime family, he was now officially a caporegime, a street boss in charge of a decine or crew of soldiers, but being who he was, Genovese was accorded the respect of a "Don" and commanded the loyalty and respect of the blue collar faction of the crime family, the capos and street soldiers who committed most of the violent crimes such as extortion, hijacking, robbery, theft and murder. Frank Costello was a highly respected and popular crime family boss, who had the loyalty and support of the white collar faction of the crime family, the capos and soldiers who controlled such rackets as gambling, loansharking, construction, waste hauling, trucking, waterfront, garment center, labor and union operations, as well as the many legitimate investments the crime family controlled. Frank Costello's position as a Commission member and his popularity as a top boss kept him safe from any assassination attempt or power move by Vito Genovese until Genovese could rally enough support from the majority of Luciano family members as well as support from other Commission members. Vito Genovese was also persuaded from a direct attack of Costello by the fact that present Luciano family Underboss, Quarico Moretti was Costello's ally and cousin who commanded a small army of soldiers in New Jersey.
From May 1950 - May 1951, the United States was held in awe by the Kefauver hearings and a parade of over 600 gangsters, pimps, bookies, politicians and shady lawyers who testified while being show cased on America's newest fascination, television. The hearings were called by a Special Committee of the United States Senate chaired by Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, who had been appointed to investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce."
Frank Costello in court
Frank Costello had become a respected underworld figure who had always craved the respectability of high society, going as far as seeking the advice of a psychiatrist, but never truly achieving the legitimate respectability he wanted. During the Senate hearings, Frank Costello became the star attraction being billed as America's #1 gangster and the defacto leader of Tammany Hall, as the underworld grapevine had it, "Nobody in New York city can be made a judge without Costello's consent." Costello agreed to testify at the hearings and not take the Fifth Amendment as it was his right and being that all of the previous underworld figures to take the stand did so. The hearing's committee and television networks agreed not to broadcast Frank Costello's face, only his hands, as Costello nervously refused to answer certain questions and skirt others. When asked by the committee, "What have you done for your country Mr. Costello?", his reply, "Paid my tax!" Frank Costello found the 1950's a very trying decade, as he became the most famous gangster in America since Al Capone during the Senate hearings and began to experience added law enforcement and media scrutiny, but his biggest troubles began when his right hand man and loyal supporter, Willie Moretti was assassinated on Commission orders on October 4, 1951 in a New Jersey restaurant due to the fact that he was suffering from a case of syphilis that had spread to his brain and caused dementia and a loose tongue at the Kefauver hearings. Frank Costello had lost a powerful ally and supporter in Willie Moretti and to add to his troubles Costello's walkout in the Senate hearings came back to haunt him when he was convicted and sentenced to jail for 18 months in August, 1952 on contempt of Senate charges. Costello was released after 14 months, in October, 1953 and by 1954, he was charged with tax evasion and sentenced to five years in jail, serving 11 months of his sentence before it was overturned on appeal. In 1956, he was once again convicted and sent to prison, being released in early 1957 on another appeal.
In 1956, another Costello supporter and powerful member of the Luciano family, Joe Adonis, chose voluntary deportation back to his hometown of Naples over a long jail sentence leaving Costello more vulnerable to an attempt by Vito Genovese to usurp Costello's leadership position within the organisation, but Costello had one more powerful ally and protector Genovese needed to deal with. Brooklyn waterfront boss Albert Anastasia had taken over the second largest mafia family in the United States after the disappearance of Boss Vincenzo "Vincent" Mangano. Starting with the placement of Albert Anastasia on the Commission in 1951, the Liberal faction began to get stronger and by 1953, once Boss Tommy Lucchese was added, the Conservative faction that controlled the Commission from 1936-53, was now being rivaled by the Costello-Anastasia-Lucchese alliance. Vito Genovese took this opportunity of conflict within the Commission to approach Tommy Lucchese and Anastasia underboss Carlo Gambino in a final bid to eliminate Frank Costello and his ally Albert Anastasia, leaving the leadership of the Luciano and Anastasia crime families open for Genovese and Gambino too assume control.
Vito Genovese had patiently waited 10 years after his return to the United States from Italy to make his final move against Frank Costello, and shortly after Costello's release from prison in early 1957, an attempt was made on his life on the night of May 2, 1957, as he was walking to the elevator in the lobby of his Manhattan apartment building. Costello was shot in the head by Genovese driver and protege, Vincent Gigante, who accidentally warned Costello by saying "This is for you Frank!", before taking his shot. Frank Costello turned his head to see who had called his name and because of that common reaction to someone calling his name the gunman missed, the bullet entering Costello's scalp on the right side and traveling around his head, staying lodged over his left ear as he fell to the ground. Chin Gigante fled the scene thinking Costello was dead, but the bullet had done little more than leave a scalp wound at the entrance of the wound, causing some bleeding. Luciano crime family soldier, Vincent Gigante went on the lam and lost a great deal of weight from his 6'2, 300 pound frame to conceal his identity, but he later turned himself in to face trial hoping Costello would adhere to the mafia code of secrecy, "Omerta", during the trial, which Costello did allowing Gigante's acquittal. Vito Genovese ordered all Luciano crime family members loyal to him to show their support for Genovese's bid for leadership by attending an important meeting at his New Jersey mansion. All the crime family's capos except Costello loyalist Anthony Carfano show up at Genovese's home, he later paid for this insult to Genovese with his life when he was murdered on September 25, 1959. Even though his attempt on Costello had failed, Vito Genovese went on to appoint himself boss of the Luciano crime family and call for a national Commission meeting to discuss mafia affairs in New York and other important issues that needed to be immediately addressed. The Luciano crime family , the most powerful, influential and wealthy crime family in America was officially renamed the Genovese family.
Costello after being shot
After recovering from the assassination attempt, Frank Costello and Vito Genovese made peace before the ill-fated Apalachin meeting on November 14, 1957, Costello no longer wishing to be a crime family boss and voluntarily stepped down for Genovese. In return for Frank Costello's abdication of leadership and his retirement from high level Genovese crime family affairs he was given the rights to all of his gambling operations in Louisiana and Florida and his legitimate business interests as a retirement severance for giving up all interests in other Genovese crime family rackets and operations. Officially Costello was demoted to the rank of soldier within the crime family, but he was never looked at as less than a top level boss in the criminal organization he helped build, "La Cosa Nostra" or "This Thing of Ours."
Vito Genovese was still weary of the murderous Albert Anastasia, who was furious over the attempt made on the life of Frank Costello. Vito Genovese called upon his alliance with Lucchese crime family Boss Tommy Lucchese and his close ally, Anastasia crime family Underboss, Carlo Gambino to eliminate his last obstacle to majority control of the New York mafia and Gambino's obstacle to becoming a crime family Boss and Commission member, Anastasia. Albert Anastasia, New York mafia Boss and the former chieftain of Murder, Inc. was shot and killed in the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel on October 25, 1957 allegedly by Profaci family members, the Gallo brothers on orders of Carlo Gambino.
After Vito Genovese and Carlo Gambino took control of their crime families and began to recover from the publicity and law enforcement scrutiny from the ill-fated Apalachin meeting, it is alleged that Frank Costello, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Carlo Gambino and Meyer "The Brain" Lansky planned their revenge for the attempt on Costello's life and to eliminate Genovese as a top power in the mafia, allowing Gambino to become a rising power in the mafia, the successor to Charlie Luciano as the defacto boss of bosses, as Luciano had predicted. They accomplished this by framing Vito Genovese, Vincent Gigante, and others, including future Bonanno Family boss, Carmine Galante, in a drug bust in 1959, removing two obstacles in Carlo Gambino's way, Genovese and Galante. Vito Genovese was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison where he eventually died in 1969, while Carmine Galante was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in 1962, paroled in 1974, he was assassinated in 1979.
Frank Costello would always be known as "The Prime Minister of the Underworld" and remain a high level mafia figure with power and influence in New York's mafia all through his retirement and remained busy throughout final years. La Cosa Nostra bosses such as Carlo Gambino and Gaetano "Tommy Brown" Lucchese still paid visits to Costello at the Waldorf Astoria penthouse in order to ask for advice and council on important mafia affairs. In 1973, at the age of 82, Frank Costello died of a heart attack at a Manhattan hospital.
Mausoleum of Frank Costello
Carmine Galante's revenge
As a testament to Costello's fame and influence in the American underworld, when Bonanno crime family boss and wanna be boss of bosses, Carmine Galante was paroled from prison in 1974, he ordered Frank Costello's burial site to be bombed, blowing off the bronze doors of the mausoleum to announce Galante's arrival back on the New York mafia scene and what better way to do this than by desecrating the grave site of one of the American mafia's most powerful and well known leaders.