The numbers game
Tony Salerno was born in 1911 in East Harlem, New York. During the 1930's he became a member of the
Luciano family, later known as the Genovese family, and was appointed under Michael Coppola.
Another member of the Coppola crew was Philip Lombardo, who in 1969 would succeed Vito Genovese as boss of the family.
Salerno started to earn millions through the number rackets in Harlem, which had once been dominated by Dutch Schultz and Ciro Terranova before being taken over by Coppola. Although Harlem became more populated with other etnical groups Salerno remained there at his headquarters, the Palma Boys Social Club. He was mostly seen with a fedora on his head and a cigar clenched between his teeth. In 1962 captain Michael Coppola was sent to prison and eventually died in 1966. His crew and control over the number rackets were then passed to Salerno. By this he had now become the new Genovese leader of East Harlem and South Bronx.
In 1969 boss Vito Genovese died and was succeeded by Philip Lombardo. In order to avoid prosecution Lombardo tricked the FBI by staying under the radar and using front bosses. Tommy Eboli became the first front boss which after his death in 1972 passed to Funzie Tieri. Because Lombardo controlled the family from behind the throne he managed to stay far away from prison.
Salerno had always stayed a close associate of Lombardo and was appointed as consigliere in 1972 after Michele Miranda retired.
Later, when Funzie Tieri died in 1981, Lombardo made Salerno his new front boss.
By the 1980's Salerno had become a very wealthy man. He owned several properties including a villa in Miami and a 100-acre horsefarm in Rhinebeck, New York. He had made fortunes with number rackets, loansharking, profit skimming from Nevada casino's and his interestests in many of the 5 families construction projects. One of these projects was the building of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which was completed in 1986. The contract was gained by S&A Concrete Co., a company partially owned by Salerno. By keeping a low profile he managed to stay out of the hands of the FBI for a long time. In 1978 he was only briefly jailed for tax evasion.
The Commission case
In the early 1980's the FBI started to surveil all the members of the Commission. Through the use of "bugs" they watched over them, day and night.
The FBI had placed a bug in Salerno's Harlem headquarters, the Palma Boys Social Club. Another bug was placed in the Jaguar of Lucchese boss Anthony Corallo and another one was detached in the house of Gambino boss Paul Castellano.
Over the years the FBI had gathered enough evidence to charge and convict the New York bosses. The trials started in 1986 although the arrests had allready been made the previous year. After a 3 month trial all the bosses were found guilty to RICO charges and were sentenced to 100 years each. After the trials ended they were gathered one last time where they were served with Italian food and wine, to make a last toast before going to prison. Salerno was then put behind bars in Springfield.
However, all that time the FBI believed that Salerno was pulling the strings of the Genovese family, until his second in command, Vincent Cafaro, revealed that it was actually Philip Lombardo who headed the family all along.
Lombardo eventually died a free man in 1985 and was succeeded as official boss by Vincent Gigante. Gigante also used the same
tactics as Lombardo and also managed to escape conviction for several years.
During his jailtime Salerno suffered from bad health. He had diabetics and also had a history of strokes.
He died at the age of 80 in 1992. He was buried in a mausoleum at Saint Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx.