Carmine “Lilo” Galante – The Cigar

He was as vicious as Mafia boss Vito Genovese, as ambitious as Vito Genovese, and he was deeply involved in the heroin business as was Vito Genovese. However, Carmine “The Cigar” Galante, would not die of natural causes as did Vito Genovese (albeit in prison). Instead, Galante was murdered in one of the most memorable mob hits of all time. After his body was filled with lead, he lay sprawled on his back in the tiny backyard patio of a Queens restaurant, his trademark cigar clenched tightly between his teeth.

Camillo Galante was born on February 21st, 1910, at 27 Stanton Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Because both his parents, Vincenzo, a fisherman, and his wife (maiden name Vingenza Russo) had been born in the seaside village of Castellammarese del Golfo in Sicily, Galante was a pure first generation Sicilian/America. Galante had two brothers and two sisters, and when he was in grade school, Galante ditched his given name Camillo, and insisted he be called Carmine instead. Over the years it was shortened to “Lilo,” which was the name most of his associates called Galante.

Galante first got into trouble for petty theft from a store counter when he was fourteen years old. But since he was a juvenile at the time, an account of this arrest is not in his official police record.

At various times, Galante attended Public High Schools 79 and 120, but he dropped out of school for good at the age of fifteen. Galante was in and out of reform school several times, and was considered an “incorrigible delinquent.”

From 1923 to 1926, Galante was ostensibly employed at the Lubin Artificial Flower Company at 270 West Broadway. However, this was a ruse to satisfy the law that Galante was gainfully employed, when, in fact, he was engaged in a very lucrative criminal career.

In December 1925, Galante was arrested for assault. However, money changed hands between Galante’s people and crooked policemen, and as a result, Galante was released without serving any prison time. In December 1926, Galante was arrested again, but this time he was found guilty of second degree assault and robbery, and sentenced to two-to-five years in prison. Galante was released from prison in 1930, and in order to satisfy his parole officer, he got another sham “job” at the O’Brien Fish Company at 105 South Street, near the Fulton Fish Market.

However, it was not Galante’s nature to stay on the right side of the law. On March 15th, 1930, five men entered the Martin Weinstein’s shoe factory on the corner of York and Washington Streets in Brooklyn Heights. On the 6th floor of the building, Mr. Weinstein was in the process of getting his weekly payroll together, under the protection of police officer Walter De Castillia of the 84th Precinct. The five men took the elevator to the 6th floor. While one man stood guard at the elevator, the other four men burst into Mr. Weinstein’s office. They ignored the $7,500 sitting on the table, and opened fire on Officer De Castillia, a married father of a young girl, with nine years on the force. Officer De Castillia was hit six times in the chest and he died instantly.

The four men walked calmly back to the elevator and joined their cohort, who was guarding the elevator operator Louis Sella. Stella took the five men down to the ground floor. He later told the police that the men had exited the building, calmly walked to a parked car, got into the car, and fled the scene. When the police arrived minutes later from the station house just 2 blocks away, the killers were nowhere to be seen. Sella described the five men as “early to mid-twenties, with dark skin and dark hair.” Sella said the men were all “very well-dressed.”

The police theory was, that since no money had been taken, that this was a planned hit on Officer De Castillia. On August 30, 1930, Galante, along with Michael Consolo and Angelo Presinzano, were arrested and indicted for the murder of Officer De Castillia. However, all four men were soon released due to lack of evidence.

On December 25th, 1930, four suspicious men were sitting in a green sedan on Briggs Avenue in Brooklyn. Police detective Joseph Meenahan just happened to be in the area. He spotted the men in the sedan, drew his gun, and approached the sedan cautiously. One of the men shouted at Meenahan, “Stop right there copper, or we’ll burn you.”

Before Meenahan could react, the firing commenced from the green sedan. Meenahan was shot in the leg, and a six-year-old girl walking nearby with her mother was seriously wounded. The driver of the sedan had trouble starting the car, so the four men leaped from the sedan and tried to escape on foot. Three of the men manged to flee the area by jumping on a passing truck, but the fourth man slipped as he tried to get onto the truck and was apprehended by the wounded Meenahan. That man was Carmine Galante.

When Meenahan brought Galante to the station house, a group of detectives, angry that one of their own had been wounded, started to give Galante the “police station tuneup.” Despite getting his lumps, Galante refused to give up the identities of the men who had escaped. He was subsequently tried and convicted as one of the four men who had robbed the Lieberman Brewery in Brooklyn. On January 8th, 1931, Galante was remanded to Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York. He was later transferred to the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, where he remained until his release on May 1st, 1939.

While Galante was in prison he was given an IQ test that revealed he had a lame IQ of only 90, which, even though Galante was well into his twenties, equated to a mental age of 14-years-old. It was also noted that Galante was diagnosed as having a “neuropathic psychopathic personality.” A physical evaluation showed that he had a head injury incurred in a car accident when Galante was 10-years-old, a fractured ankle when he was eleven, and that Galante was showing the early signs of gonorrhea, probably incurred at one of the many brothels controlled by the mob.

In 1939, after he was released from prison, Galante was again given sham employment at his old job at the Lubin Artificial Flower Company. In February of 1941, Galante obtained membership in Local 856 of the Longshoreman’s Union, where he ostensibly worked as a ” stevedore.” However, it is likely Galante very rarely showed up for work; one of the perks of being a member of the Mafia.

There is no record of the exact date, but Galante was induced as a made member of the Bonanno Crime Family in the early 1940′s. Despite the fact his boss was Joe Bonanno, at the time the youngest Mafia boss in America, Galante performed many hits for Vito Genovese, all throughout the 1930′s and 1940′s.

While Genovese was in self-imposed exile in Italy (he was wanted on a murder charge and flew the coop before he could be arrested), Genovese became fast pals with Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Mussolini had a stone in his shoe in America called Carlo Tresa. Tresa was causing Mussolini much agita by incessantly writing anti-fascist sentiments in his radical Italian-language newspaper, Il Martello, which was sold in Italian communities in America.

Genovese sent word back to America to Frank Garofalo, underboss to Joseph Bonanno, that Tresa had to go. Garofalo gave Tresa contract to Galante, who shadowed Tresa for a few days to determine the best time and place to whack him.

On January 11th, 1943, Tresa was walking along Fifth Avenue near 13th Street, when a black Ford sedan pulled up along side him. The Ford stopped and Galante jumped out, hot gun in hand. Galante blasted Tresa several times in the back and in the head, killing the newspaper editor instantly. Amazingly, Galante was seen by his parole officer fleeing the scene, but due to the wartime rationing of gasoline, the parole officer was unable to follow the black Ford containing Galante and the smoking gun. No arrest were ever made for the Tresa slaying.

In 1953, Bonanno sent Galante to Montreal, Canada to take control of the Bonanno Family interests north of the boarder. Besides the very lucrative Canadian gambling rackets, the Bonannos were heavy into the importation of heroin, from France into Canada, and then into America – the infamous French Connection. Galante supervised the Canadian drug operation for three years. But in 1956, the Canadian police caught wind of Galante’s involvement. Not having enough evidence to arrest Galante, they instead deported Galante back to America, classifying Galante as “an undesirable alien.”

In 1957, Genovese called for a big summit of all the top Mafioso in America, to take place at the upstate New York Apalachin residence of Joseph Barbara, a captain in the Buffalo crime family of Stefano Magaddino. In preparation for this meeting, on October 19th, 1956, several New York crime bigwigs were summoned to Barbara’s home to go over the guidelines of the proposed meeting; the prime purpose of which was to anoint Genovese as the Capo di Tutti Capi,” or “Boss of all Bosses.”

After the meeting ended, driving on his way back to New York City, Galante was nabbed for speeding near Birmingham, New York. Because his driver’s license had been suspended, Galante gave the police a phone one. He was immediately arrested and sentenced to 30 days in prison. However, the tentacles of the Mafia also reached right into the police department in upstate New York. After a few mobbed-up New York lawyers made the right phone calls to upstate New York, Galante was released within 48 hours. Yet, a state policeman named Sergeant Edgar Roswell took note of the fact that Galante had admitted to the police he had stayed the night before at the Arlington Hotel, as host of a local businessman named Joseph Barbara. This prompted Roswell to pay especial attention to the Barbara residence in Apalachin, New York.

Less than a month later, on November 17th, 1957, at the insistence of Don Vito Genovese, Mafia members from all over America made their way to the Barbara residence. These men included Sam Giancana from Chicago, Santo Trafficante from Florida, John Scalish from Cleveland, and Joe Profaci and Tommy Lucchese from New York City. Galante’s boss Joe Bonanno decided not to attend, and he sent Galante instead.

Sergeant Roswell took note of the fact that on the day before the nearby Arlington Hotel had been booked to the rafters with suspicious-looking out-of-towners. Roswell asked the right questions, and he was able to confirm that the man who made the reservations for these men was Joseph Barbara himself. Roswell drove to the Barbara resident and he spotted dozens of luxury cars parked outside, some with out-of-town plates.

Roswell called for back-up, and in minutes, dozens of state troupers arrived with guns drawn. The troupers raided the Barbara residence and chaos ensued. Men wearing expensive suits, hats, and shoes bolted from the house. Some were immediately arrested; some made it to their cars and drove off the property before roadblocks could be put in place by the police. Others jumped out of the windows and hightailed in through the thorny woods. One of these men was Carmine Galante, who hid in a cornfield until the police had left the Barbara residence. Then made his way back to Barbara’s home, and made arrangements for his safe passage back to New York City.

The next day, when the news of the raid on Barbara’s house hit American newspapers, blowing the lid off the misguided idea that the Mafia was a myth, Galante went into the wind, or in mob terms, he “pulled a lamski.” On January 8th, 1958, the New York Herald Tribune wrote that Galante had run to Italy to hook up with old pal Salvatore “Lucky” Luciano, who was in exile in Italy, after serving nine years in American prison on a trumped-up prostitution charge. Another report said that it was not Luciano Galante was with, but rather Joe “Adonis” Doto, another mob boss in exile in Italy. On January 9th, the New York Journal American said Galante was not in Italy at all, but in Havana, Cuba, with Meyer Lansky, a longtime member of the National Crime Commission, who had numerous casino interests in Cuba.

In April 1958, it was somehow leaked that Galante was now back in the United States and living somewhere in the New York area. The local law went to work, and in July, Galante was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics while he was driving near near Holmdale, New Jersey. He was charged with taking part in a major heroin deal, one of many Galante had been involved with. Also arrested in the same case were Vito Genovese, John Ormento, Joe Di Palermo, and Vincent Gigante. Galante, again making use of his cadre of New York attorneys, was released on $100,000 bail. Galante’s lawyers were able to delay any further legal proceedings for almost two years. It wasn’t until May 17th, 1960, that Galante was formally indicted, and again released on bail.

On January 20th, 1961, Galante’s trial finally began, and the judge, Thomas F. Murphy, revoked Galante’s bail, ordering Galante to be put right into the slammer. However, Galante’s luck held up when, on May 15th, a mistrial was declared. It seemed the foreman of the jury, a poor chap named Harry Appel, a 68-year-old dress manufacturer, had the misfortune of falling down a flight of stairs in a building on 15th Street in Manhattan. After the medics arrived and Appel was taken to a nearby hospital, it was determined that Appel had suffered a broken back. No one had seen Appel fall, nor did the hurt and frightened Appel say that anyone had pushed him. However, although they had no definite proof, law enforcement believed that Appel had been pushed by a cohort of Galante’s, with a warning not to say anything to anybody, and they would allow Appel and members of his family to live.

Galante, now feeling alive and chipper, was released from prison, secured by a bond of $135,000.

Alas, but all good things must come to an end.

In April 1962, Galante’s second trial commenced.

At the trial, there was a bit of mayhem in the courtroom, when one of Galante’s co-defendants, a nasty creature named Tony Mirra (who was said to have killed 30-40 people) became so unhinged, that he picked up a chair and flung it at the prosecutor. Luckily for the prosecutor, the chair missed him and landed in the jury box, forcing the frightened jurors to scatter in all directions. Order was restored to the court, and the trial proceeded, which was bad news for both Galante, and for Mirra. Both men were found guilty, and on July 10th, 1962, Galante was sentenced to thirty years in prison. Mirra also was sent to prison for a very long time. It is not clear if any additional time was tacked onto Mirra’s sentence for the chair-throwing incident.

Galante first was sent to Alcatraz Prison, which was located on an island fortress in San Francisco Bay. He was then moved to the Lewisburg Penitentiary, in Leavenworth, Kansas, before serving the final years of his prison term in the United States Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. Galante was finally released from prison on January 24th, 1974, all full of fire and brimstone, and ready to get back into business. However, Galante was to be on parole until 1981, so he had to be careful not to keep a high profile. Unfortunately, being in the background was not in Galante’s makeup.

While he was in prison, Galante made it known that when he got out of prison he was going to take control of the New York Mafia by the throat. The accepted head of the five New York City Mafia families at the time was Carlo Gambino, the head of the Gambino crime family. Gambino was shrewd, and generally quiet and reserved; well-respected for his business acumen, and his ability to keep peace amongst his own family, as well as the other Mafia families. However, Galante had to use for Gambino, or his method of doing business.

By the time of Galante’s release, his boss Joe Bonanno had been forced to “retire,” and was living in Tuscon, Arizona. The new Bonanno boss was Rusty Rastelli. But since Rastelli was in the slammer at the time, Galante took over as the “street boss” of the Bonannos. Still, Rastelli was considered the boss of the Bonannos, and was none too happy about how Galante was strutting his stuff on the streets of New York City.

Galante took the unusual step, and not appreciate by other Bonanno crime family members, of surrounding himself with Sicilian born Mafioso like Caesar Bonventre, Salvatore Catalano, and Baldo Amato. Theses men were derisively called “zips” by the American Mafia, due to the quick way they zipped through the Italian language. These zips were heavily involved in the drug trade, and in direct opposition to those in the Genovese Crime Family, which was run by Funzi Tieri, every bit as cunning and vicious as Galante.

Galante had a minor setback, when in 1978, he was arrested by the Feds for “associating with known criminals,” which was a violation of his parole. While Galante stewed in prison, he began ordering his men to kill mobsters in the Genovese and Gambino crime families, who were cutting in on Galante’s worldwide drug operation. With Carlo Gambino now dead (from natural causes), Galante figured he had the muscle to push the other crime family bosses into the background. From prison he sent out the message to the other bosses, “Who among you is going to stand up against me?”

On March 1st, 1979, Galante’s was released from prison and walking on air because he truly believed the other crime bosses were afraid of him. Like Vito Genovese before him, Galante envisioned himself as “Boss of All Bosses,” and it was only a matter of time before the other bosses cowered before Galante and handed him the title.

However, Galante underestimated the might and will of the other Mafioso bosses in New York City. While Galante swaggered around the streets of New York City, the other bosses held a meeting in Boca Raton, Florida, deciding Galante’s fate. At this meeting were Funzi Tieri, Jerry Catena, Paul Castellano, and Florida boss Santo Trafficante. These powerful men voted unanimously, if mob peace was to exist in the streets of New York City, Galante had to go. Rastelli, who was still in jail, was consulted, and even the aged Joe Bonanno, living in Arizona, was asked if he had any reservations at his former close associate being hit. Both Rastelli and Bonanno signed off on Galante’s murder contract, and Galante’s days were numbered.

On July 12th, 1979, it was a hot and sticky summer day, as the 69-year-old Carmine Galante’s Lincoln pulled up at 205 Knickerbocker Avenue, in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. For more than 50 years, Knickerbocker Avenue had been the turf of the Bonanno crime family, and over the years numerous mob sit-downs had taken place in one of several storefronts on the block.

Carmine Galante stepped out of the Lincoln, then he waved goodbye to the driver: his nephew James Galante. Carmine Galante was wearing a white short-sleeved knit shirt, and, as was his custom, he was sucking on a huge Churchill cigar. Galante strutted inside the tiny restaurant, and was greet by Joe Turano, the owner of Joe and Mary’s Restaurant. Galante had made this visit to meet with Turano, and with Leonard “Nardo” Coppola, a close associate of Galante’s, over some undetermined mob business.

At approximately 1:30 p.m., Cappola strolled into the restaurant, accompanied by zips Baldo Amato and Cesare Bonventre, who were cousins, and from the same village as Galante’s parents: Castellammarese del Golfo. By this time Galante and Turano had already finished their meal, so while the three newcomers sat inside and had their lunch, Galante and Turano slipped outside into the backyard patio, and sat under a yellow-and-turquoise checked umbrella. After Cappola, Bonventre, and Amato finished dining, they joined the other two men outside. Galante and Turano were smoking cigars and drinking espresso coffee laced with Anisette (only tourists and non-Italians drink Sambuca).

Galante was sitting with his back to a small garden, while Amato sat to his left and Bonventre to his right. Turano and Cappola sat on the opposite side of the table, their backs to the door leading to the restaurant.

At approximately 2:40 p.m., a four-door, blue Mercury Montego double parked in front of Joe and Mary’s Restaurant. The car had been stolen about a month before. The driver, wearing a red-striped ski mask that covered his face, stepped out of the car and stood guard, holding a.3030 M1 carbine rifle menacingly in his hands. Three other men, also wearing ski masks, jumped out of the car and jogged into the restaurant. They sped past the few startled diners who were still eating lunch, and rushed into the patio area.

As they entered the patio, one masked man said to the other, “Get him, Sal!’

The gunman called “Sal” began firing a double-barrel shotgun several times at Galante, propelling Galante, as he was rising from his chair, onto his back. Galante was hit with 30 pellets, one knocking out his left eye. Galante was probably dead before he hit the ground, his cigar still stuck tightly between his teeth.

As Galante was shot, Joe Turano yelled,”What are you doing?”

The same gunman turned to Turano, and with the shotgun pressed against Turano’s chest, he blasted Turano into eternity.

Cappola jumped up from the table, and either Amato, or Bonventre (it’s not clear which one did the shooting) shot Cappola in the face, then five times in the chest. Cappola landed face down, and the killer with the shotgun, blasted off the back of Coppola’s head.

The three masked men then hurried from the restaurant, and into the waiting getaway car. According to witnesses outside the restaurant, the car sped up Knickerbocker Avenue to Flushing Avenue, then disappeared around the corner. Bonventre and Amato, who were both wearing leather jackets despite the stifling heat, soon followed the three gunman out of the restaurant. They calmly walked down the block, got into a blue Lincoln, and drove away, like they had nary a care in the world.

Galante’s body was laid out in the Provenzano-Lanza Funeral Home at 43 Second Avenue on the Lower East Side. The crowds that usual accompany a Mafia wake of this kind were notably absent. Galante was buried on July 17th at Saint John’s Cemetery in Queens. With the Feds doing the counting, only 59 people attended Galante’s funeral mass and burial. The Feds also reported that not one Mafia made man was captured on surveillance cameras, either at the wake, or at the funeral.

One Fed, commenting at the sparse turnout, said, “Galante was so bad, people didn’t want to see him, even when he was dead.”

Even though the newspapers played up the killing with gruesome front page photos, the general public seemed imperious to the magnitude of the event. A young boy strolled up to a police officer standing guard the wake.

“Was he an actor?” the kid said to the cop.

The cop replied, “No, he was a gangster.”