In 1931, following decades of turf warfare, Brooklyn bootlegger Salvatore Maranzano established the leaders of New York City's five largest Italian American criminal organizations and declared himself capo di tutti capi — the "boss of all bosses."
Maranzano was soon killed off — the other bosses preferred sharing leadership under what became known as the Commission — but his creation lived on and the Five Families of New York becoming central players in the saga of the American Mafia.
A longtime rival to the Genovese family as the dominant entity of the Commission, the Gambino family offers a roster of some of the more colorful figures in mob history. One such figure was the bloodthirsty Albert Anastasia, who allegedly engineered the 1951 disappearance of the family's inaugural leader, Vincent Mangano, before meeting his own brutal end in a barber's chair in 1957. This paved the way for the immensely powerful Carlo Gambino and later the infamous John Gotti, who orchestrated the 1985 hit on Gambino's hand-picked successor, Paul Castellano, before he was done in by the testimony of his one-time underboss, Sammy "The Bull" Gravano. The Gambinos returned to the headlines in 2008 with the arrest of at least five dozen members on federal racketeering charges, and again in 2019 with the assassination of reported acting boss Frank Cali.
For years, this family operated as a model organization under the fists of Tommy Gagliano and then Tommy Lucchese, longtime colleagues who paid their dues during the Prohibition years and understood the value of steering clear of the headlines. That changed under boss Carmine Tramunti, who was convicted in 1973 for his part in the French Connection heroin smuggling ring. Successor Anthony "Tony Ducks" Corallo brought a return to secrecy as he conducted business from a phone car, his crew earning notoriety for the 1978 Lufthansa Heist at JFK Airport that inspired a scene in the 1990 movie Goodfellas. However, Corallo was convicted in the Mafia Commission Trial of the mid-1980s, paving the way for the bloody reign of Vic Amuso and Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso. Amuso's murderous ways sealed his own fate when top lieutenant Alphonse D'Arco was spooked into turning informant in the early 1990s, though the boss reportedly continued wielding absolute power from behind bars for many years afterward.
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The outfit, initially overseen by Lucky Luciano, has been called the "Ivy League" of organized crime due to its size, strength of operations in areas from gambling to loan-sharking and ability to keep members in line through adherence to "omertà" — the legendary code of silence. After Luciano was convicted on prostitution charges in 1936, leadership passed to Frank Costello — who expanded the organization's reach into Las Vegas — and then to Vito Genovese, who planted his name on the family masthead before his own conviction on narcotics charges in 1959. The final decades of the century saw the Genovese run by the powerful and paranoid Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, who tightened control over union and construction rackets but also reportedly forbade his men to speak his name under penalty of death, and wandered the streets in a bathrobe in an ill-fated effort to convince the FBI of his insanity.
One of the oldest families of the American Mafia has also endured some of its most notorious scandals, beginning with the Luciano-ordered assassination of Maranzano that placed 26-year-old Joe Bonanno in charge of the organization. Although he strengthened his authority by allying with the Profaci family, Bonanno departed after his plan to murder Tommy Lucchese and Carlo Gambino was uncovered in 1964, setting off a family power struggle known as the Banana War. The following decade, acting boss Carmine Galante courted more trouble by killing the rival gangs that were butting into his drug-trafficking operation, leading to his assassination in 1979. Meanwhile, FBI agent Joe Pistone had infiltrated the family under the alias Donnie Brasco, his six years undercover leading to 100 convictions. Despite all this, the Bonannos managed to regain their footing under the leadership of Big Joey Massino, until he became the first New York crime boss to turn informant following his 2003 arrest.
The youngest of the Five Families was founded in 1928 by olive oil importer Joe Profaci, a legitimate businessman with a nose for extracurricular interests like extortion, prostitution and narcotics. The old-school don also rankled underlings with his inflexible demands for a cut of the profits, igniting a mutiny from "Crazy Joe" Gallo and his brothers in the early 1960s. The passing of the torch to the publicity-hungry Joe Colombo caused more headaches, prompting a 1971 assassination attempt that left the family namesake in a comatose state. Following a period of relative stability, the organization again degenerated into civil war in the 1990s over a struggle to take over day-to-day operations from convicted boss Carmine Persico. A 2011 New York Post article reported on additional blows to the Colombo hierarchy, though it noted that the family was far from finished thanks to its control of the cement and concrete workers union.