Born in Italy on January 26, 1891, Frank "the Prime Minister" Costello started life a slum kid, but grew up to lead the Luciano crime family, the most powerful crime family in New York, after former mob boss Lucky Luciano went to prison in 1936. Costello retired as mob boss in 1957. That same year, he was imprisoned for contempt of a grand jury. Released from prison in 1961, he served as a Mafia elder statesman until his death in 1973.
The so-called "Prime Minister of the Underworld," infamous gangster Frank Costello was born Francesco Castiglia on January 26, 1891, in Cosenza, Italy. When he was 4 years old, Costello moved with his parents, Calabrian immigrants, to New York City. The family settled in East Harlem, where young Frank soon embarked upon a life of crime: He became involved with a local Italian gang known as the 104th Street Gang, and before long, was heading the group.
Frank Costello eschewed the violence of a gunshot for the diplomacy of a handshake. After Lucky Luciano went to prison in 1936, Costello became the de facto boss of the Luciano crime family (later renamed the Genovese crime family), the most powerful crime family in New York and one of the Five Families of the New York Mafia. Costello considered the job a burden, for what he truly craved in life—and would never acquire—was to escape the stigma of his criminal roots and be considered a respectable businessman.
Like so many of his New York cronies, Costello escaped the poverty of immigrant life by running booze. At the end of Prohibition, he invested in gambling enterprises, earning millions from slot machines and casinos. By the 1940s, Costello had virtually taken control of New York politics through his grip on the Democratic Party at Tammany Hall. "I don't sell Bibles," he admitted, but he resented press reports that described him as a crime czar.
Just when he reached the apex of his power, Costello's lifelong dream of legitimizing himself in polite society ended abruptly and disastrously. The Senate investigation hearings of Estes Kefauver targeted Costello in 1952 as the No. 1 racketeer in the country. His courtroom testimony would irrevocably taint Costello's name, as well as destroy his power base at Tammany Hall. Costello found himself pinced on one side by the government, which sent him to jail on charges of contempt and tax evasion, and on the other side by underworld rival Vito Genovese.
Later Years and Death
When Costello miraculously survived a hit by Genovese soldier Vincent "The Chin" Gigante in 1957, the onetime kingmaker decided that it was time to retire. That same year, Costello was convicted of contempt of a grand jury. He would serve many sentences over the next several years. (Vito "Don Vito" Genovese, who had ordered the hit on Costello, became the Luciano crime family's new boss in 1957, and changed the family's name to the Genovese crime family.)
Released from prison in 1961, Frank "the Prime Minister" Costello retired to his summer estate. He served as a Mafia elder statesman until his death, on February 18, 1973, at the age of 82, from a heart attack, in New York City.
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