With more than 30 years as head of the Colombo crime family, Carmine "The Snake" Persico is one of most enduring godfathers in Mafia history, but his time at the top came from a ruthless drive for power—a drive that earned him his infamous nickname. Persico began his rise to the top on the hard-scrabble streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn. He "made his bones" as one of the alleged hitmen behind the barbershop murder of notorious Albert Anastasia. Persico rose to prominence in the Colombo family as internal warfare gradually brought its leaders down. His most infamous move was betraying friend and ally Larry Gallo, nearly strangling him to death in a move that coined his nickname, "The Snake." Persico became head of the family in the late-1970s. He's held onto power since, despite his 1987 incarceration following the landmark Mafia Commission Trial.
Carmine John Persico Jr. was born on the hard-scrabble streets of Red Hook, Brooklyn, on August 8, 1933. While much of the neighborhood struggled through the Great Depression, Persico's father had a job as a legal stenographer, bringing how a steady paycheck. However, Persico still idolized the men with wads of cash and pretty women on their arms—the Mafioso.
Persico joined a local street gang, the Garfield Boys. Though a small, wiry teenager, Persico was ferocious, even killing a member of a rival gang with his bare hands in a street brawl. This caught the eye of local mobster "Frankie Shots" Abbatemarco, a member of the Profaci crime family. Abbatemarco ran a numbers operation, and Persico became a valued enforcer.
The Gallo Brothers and the Profaci Family
While in the numbers operation, Carmine Persico met a trio of kindred spirits known as the Gallo Brothers—Albert, Larry and "Crazy Joey," young associates looking become full-fledged members of the Profaci family. Joey and Carmine got their chance with the murder of legendary crime boss Albert Anastasia (which was actually carried out by Joey Gallo).
Not long after Anastasia's murder, the family grew contentious, as boss Joe Profaci was thought to be taking too much money from his underlings. The Gallos and Persico—known by this time as "The Snake"—planned a revolt. However, Persico betrayed the Gallos when Profaci offered more money. A bloody family war began, with Persico being targeted multiple times. The war ended in Persico's favor: with Crazy Joey Gallo in prison, Profaci dead from cancer and Persico a newly crowned Capo in the family.
As the 1970s began, Carmine "The Snake" Persico was pulling in buckets of cash. However, a truck-hijacking charge brought him eight years of prison time. He managed to avoid another round of violence, as new boss Joseph Colombo was shot and put into a coma. Persico was then voted new boss of the family. Persico put a hit out on Joey Gallo, who was killed while celebrating his 43rd birthday.
Persico came out of prison as boss of the family, but he ran into trouble a few years later with the landmark Mafia Commission Trial. The newly established mob boss tried acting as his own lawyer, but was ultimately unable to escape the government: In January 1987, Persico was sentenced to 100 years in prison—a virtual death sentence.
From Beyond the Prison Gates
Even from prison, Carmine Persico tried to maintain his control of the family and hand the reign of power over to his son, Alphonse. A rival faction led by Vic Orena vied for power, causing another brutal mob war to ensue. The battle ended when Vic Orena was imprisoned for racketeering, ensuring Persico's top post.
In 1999, Alphonse Persico was sent to prison on a gun charge. Fearing a growing threat that mobster William "Wild Bill" Cutolo might attempt to wrest control of the Colombo family away from the Persicos, Carmine Persico decided to eliminate the possible candidate, and "Wild Bill" Cutolo was murdered in Brooklyn on May 26, 1999. Cutolo's son, Bill Jr., was so dismayed by his father's murder, however, that he cooperated with the FBI and ultimately helped bring down Alphonse Persico, getting him sentenced to life in prison.
Carmine Persico still stands as head of the Colombo family, but it's a family in tatters.
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