Little Bits of History

January 26

Posted in History by patriciahysell on January 26, 2017

1891: Francesco Castiglia is born in Cassano allo Ionio, Italy. In 1895, he, his mother and his brother, Edward, boarded a ship to come to America and join the senior Castiglia who had opened a small neighborhood grocery store in East Harlem a few years before. By the time Francesco was 13, his older brother had introduced him to gang life and he began using the name Frankie. He was first jailed for assault and robbery in 1908 and then again in 1912 and 1917. He married Lauretta Giegerman, a friend’s sister and a Jew. He served ten months in jail for possession of a concealed weapon. Upon his release, he decided that using his brains instead of violence was the way to make in the criminal world.

Castiglia was working with the Morello gang when he met Charlie “Lucky” Luciano and the two became friends and partners. Many of the older Luciano family did not approve since Castiglia was not Sicilian. But the times were changing and the older mafiosi were forced to deal not only with non-Sicilian Italians, but the Irish and the Jews also joined into a lucrative post-Prohibition economy. The younger men were able to work with a more diverse group of criminals and spread their influence into new avenues. It was around this time Frank changed his name to Costello, perhaps to sound a bit more Irish to the rumrunners from Hell’s Kitchen known as “The Combine”. Eventually, after beating a bribery charge, Costello was able to take over the running of The Combine.

The Castellammarese War was waged between Joe Masseria and the other four major New York crime families. Costello and Luciano were allied with Masseria against the Maranzano faction. The war waged for two years, wreaked havoc with the crime business and cut into profits. The war needed to end and the criminals needed to get back to the business of crime before they were wiped away from the streets of New York. Leaders of both factions were murdered and Luciano became the new crime boss with Costello as consigliere. He became one of the biggest earners in the family and carved out his own niche in slot machines and the numbers. After Luciano was arrested in 1936, he tried to run his gang from prison but ended up handing the reins to Genovese but he was indicted in 1937. This left Costello in charge.

Genovese had been a proponent of the drug trade, but Costello was not, so the family stayed out of the drug trade. Costello was a popular Boss and opened many legitimate businesses to bolster his criminal activity. Genovese returned to New York and tried to wrest power away from Costello unsuccessfully. The feud went so far as an assassination attempt on Costello’s life which was also unsuccessful. In 1957, Costello’s rule was over and he was demoted but was permitted to keep much of his fortune. He was known as “The Prime Minister of the Underworld” during his retirement but the US Supreme Court finally stripped him of his citizenship and began deportation proceedings. He never left the country and died after suffering a heart attack in his Manhattan home. He was 82.

I’m sorry, counselor, I’d rather blow the goddamn case. (While on trial and his lawyer asked him to stop wearing $350 suits, which were hurting his case with the jury, and to switch to clothes from the plain pipe rack.) – Frank Costello

The only one that can do what I do is me. Lot of people had to die for me to be me. You wanna be me? – Frank Costello

When you decide to be something, you can be it. That’s what they don’t tell you in the church. When I was your age, they would say we can become cops or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference? – Frank Costello

One of us had to die. With me, it tends to be the other guy. – Frank Costello

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