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CARMINE ‘ THE SNAKE’ PERSICO WAS A GANGSTER’S GANGSTER: A STONE- COLD KILLER WHO’S MAINTAINED HIS POSITION AS BOSS OF NYC’S COLOMBO CRIME FAMILY DESPITE BEING SENTENCED TO 139 YEARS IN PRISON IN THE 1980S
How has Carmine ‘ The Snake’ Persico stayed don of the Colombo crime family despite being in prison for over 30 years?
Carmine ‘ The Snake’ Persico’s status in the American Mafia is something of an anomaly. He’s still alive, he’s not a ‘ rat’, and was even powerful enough during his long reign to call the shots from prison after being convicted in the infamous Mafia Commission Trial. He has become possibly one of the most polarising mob figures of the last 50 years, both in the underworld and in mainstream pop culture. Persico is the last real, old- school mob boss of our time, who some have labelled ‘ The Immortal’.
But others argue with equal passion that Persico was only ever out for one person – himself – and this persona has led to him being called ‘ The Snake’: a vicious and cunning mobster who betrayed his comrades to get ahead. He ranks in the upper echelon of American mob bosses in the late
20th century and beyond. The legacy he’s built for himself in underworld circles is massive. To be able to keep power for that long from inside prison shows the respect he and his family command on the street. When Persico dies, so too will the days of the real American Mafia.
Just A Kid From Brooklyn
“His rise in the criminal underworld had a very atypical origin,” Christian Cipollini, the author of Murder Inc.: Mysteries Of The Mob’s Most Deadly Hit Squad told Real Crime. “Persico’s family had it pretty good. His youth didn’t bear the earmarks of poverty. That said, Persico grew up in an era where legit business folks had nothing on the ‘ respect’ that a lot of Brooklyn kids may have sought and found in the wiseguys who basically ran the show, so to speak.”
Persico, like many other kids from New York in the mid 20th century, looked at the mobsters with a gleam in their eyes. To the Brooklyn kids the mobsters were the rock stars of their neighbourhood. They represented a way of life that defied the law and did things their own way. Persico came up through the streets at a young age. He was a hot- headed, tough little guy who dropped out of school and joined a local gang, the ‘ Garfield Boys’, where he made his mark while still just a teenager, upping the ante when he allegedly killed a rival during a brawl.
“In 1950, Carmine’s Garfield Boys had a rumble with the ‘ Tigers’ in front of the boathouse in Prospect Park – a fight over a girl, just like in West Side Story,” Michael Benson, co- author of Carmine The Snake: Carmine Persico And His Murderous Mafia Family said. “When it was over, one Tiger was dead with bullets in his guts and another writhed on the ground clutching stab wounds. No one remembers a time when Carmine wasn’t a gangster. In grade school he shook down kids for their lunch money. He was the kid who, for a price, promised to watch the car for you, so nothing bad could happen to it while you were away.”
The street brawl incident earned Persico major street credibility, particularly piquing the interest of a Profaci family capo. From there on Persico moved up the ranks as a good earner and, when needed, someone who could bring the muscle. By the time he turned 20, he’d already been arrested for murder twice. When he was old enough he started working his way into the Profaci family, who were controlling the Red Hook area of Brooklyn. With a reputation as a tough guy, Persico found his talents in high demand.
“That’s how he got started. Him and his brother, ‘ Allie Boy’, started moving up the ladder.” Frank Dimatteo, who co- wrote Carmine The Snake: Carmine Persico And His Murderous Mafia Family, said. Dimatteo was a Mafia associate himself during this era. Persico was a gangster’s gangster – a man whose life served as the inspiration for not
The Colombo Wars and Prison Time
“Persico’s reputation for being merciless in his mob affairs goes back to the first Colombo Family War of the 1960s, where he earned his alternate nickname, ‘ The Snake’, for his treachery,” said Scott Burnstein, author of Mafia Prince: Inside America’s Most Violent Crime Family And the Bloody Fall of La Cosa Nostra. “His heavy lifting on the front lines in that conflict got him bumped to a capo post, which put him in position to take the boss’s chair in the years to come.”
Historically, Carmine and ‘ Crazy Joe’ Gallo came up in the streets together. They were very close and in the same crew at one time. But Gallo and his brothers wanted to pull away from the Profacis because they didn’t like Joe Profaci and didn’t think he was a good boss. They accused Profaci of cheating the rank and file out of a fair share of the family profits. The Gallo brothers were renegades, and when they were plotting and trying to get other captains on their side to make this move to break away, Persico was with them.
“At one point, Profaci got to Carmine and offered him something lucrative,” Dimatteo said. “Persico invited Larry Gallo to a meeting and Larry, not knowing that Carmine already had gone back with Joe Profaci, went to see him. When he arrived Persico tried to kill Larry. That’s when the first war started, and it started getting hotter and hotter after that.” Carmine’s old running partner Larry would have been dead that day in 1961 at the Sahara Lounge in Brooklyn if a beat cop hadn’t wandered in, wondering why the door was open on a Sunday morning. This attempted barroom hit became fodder for a scene in The Godfather.
After the attempted hit Persico was dubbed ‘ The Snake’ for switching sides during the internal mob war, which has
every word was designed to enhance his own control… Persico acquired power the way other men breathe
come to be known as the First Colombo War. This was the first of many times that Persico used deception and doublecrossing to make his move and climb the ladder. In the Mafia treachery is rewarded – friends kill friends to become the top dog. Frank ‘ Punchy’ Illiano, a Genovese capo, was the one who branded Persico The Snake. Carmine Persico was going to court with his men just as Punchy was coming out. They had a confrontation and Punchy told Persico, “You’re a fucking snake.”
“That’s how it stuck.” Dimatteo said. “The Gallos always referred to Carmine as The Snake. That’s how it started… After Profaci, Joe Colombo took over. He made peace in
1964 with the Gallo brothers. At the time Carmine was in jail for another short bid. Joe Colombo was the boss between 1964 and 1972. Carmine was a skipper. His crew was very strong. They ran all of one side of South Brooklyn and even intermingled with the Gallos at the time. The Gallos, they were still part of the Profacis. The Profacis then turned into the Colombos.”
Even after the war the crews weren’t separated. They were shylocking in the same neighbourhood. Before the shooting started these gangsters had clubs together. Then, during the war, they had to hide because they were shooting at each other. After it was all over, they had to figure out what to do. Who’s taking the club? Who’s not taking the club? Who’s taking the numbers? It wasn’t just one gang fighting another gang, it was an internal battle. After the shooting stopped, everybody had to go back together again.
“The men that shot each other were hiding from each other,” Dimatteo said. “A very difficult situation. Carmine had a strong crew. He had Hugh McIntosh, Gerry Lang, he had Scarpa. You get a deadly crew around you, it makes you look good. They all earned. When Joe Colombo got shot, Carmine was the frontrunner. He was in line to take over. That’s why he became acting boss at the time, until the Commission okayed it. That’s how Carmine got that position. But he was in jail and had to leave Joseph ‘ Joe Yac’ Yacovelli, who was under him, in charge.”
Crazy Joe Gallo was making his own bid for power, and when Gallo got out of prison in 1971 Persico put a hit on him. This started the Second Colombo War. Persico put out an open contract, meaning anyone could make the hit. He blamed Gallo for the Joe Colombo hit, in which Colombo was shot three times during a demonstration. And when Joe Gallo was executed, the Persicos became kings of the Colombo hill. Carmine was acting boss at the time because Joe Colombo was a vegetable, having been left paralysed after the shooting. Carmine Persico was in jail again, but Yacovelli was again running things for him in the streets.
“When there was a challenge to his leadership with the Colombos, all- out war broke out,” Benson said. “Carmine loved wartime. He was always on the winning side, even when he had to stab his so- called friends in the back to do it.”
The Commission Trial
“The Persicos were a large family with an ominous presence within the Colombos,” said Larry McShane, author of
Chin: The Life And Crimes Of Mafia Boss Vincent Gigante. “Carmine’s brothers Alphonse and Theodore joined the Profaci- led family while young, and a second generation followed. The Persicos took over following Joe Colombo’s shooting. The Snake’s son ‘ Little Allie Boy’ became his voice… and another son, Michael, became a powerful figure.”
But that power didn’t stop the law from continuing to convict Persico of crimes relating to his Mafia leadership. In 1986 the Mafia Commission Trial began. Five mob chieftains were indicted, as the federal government and lead prosecutor
when Gallo got out of prison in 1971 Persico put a hit on him. This started
the Second Colombo War
Rudy Giuliani tried to take down the mob’s hierarchy by going after the bosses who resided on the ‘ Commission’ – the ruling Mafia council. ‘ Big Paul’ Castellano, ‘ Fat Tony’ Salerno, Tony ‘ Ducks’ Corallo, ‘ Rusty’ Rastelli and Persico were all facing time for being the heads of New York’s Five Families.
At the trial Persico decided to represent himself. He had been through so many cases that he thought he was the best person to defend him. It was a big mistake. “He’s a smart guy,” Dimatteo said. “He’s the one that looks for the money. Hundreds of thousands of dollars for attorneys. He thought he was smart enough to do it himself. A lot of guys wouldn’t do that. Carmine just had the balls to do it. He thought they had nothing on him. He felt that it was all hearsay and bullshit. He thought he was gonna win that. He put a good argument up, even the judge said he put a great argument up, but you ain’t gonna win against the feds.”
Rudy Giuliani’s war on the mob stirred such a panic across New York’s Five Families that a meeting of the bosses was called, wherein the suggestion of having the zealot prosecutor killed came up. “Three of the five bosses gave the idea a thumbs down,” Cipollini said. “But two others, John Gotti ( who came into power after killing Castellano) and Carmine Persico argued for killing Giuliani. Majority ruled, however, and Rudy’s life was spared.”
Giuliani hated the Mafia, and Persico in particular, with a passion. He wasn’t pulling any punches and was on a mission to throw the book at Persico and the other Mafia leaders. Persico knew it was part of the game but has often reflected on Giuliani. In prison he told Robert Rosso, a convicted meth dealer doing life, “I’ve been in prison almost 30 years and
I’m still married, I talk to my wife every night, she comes and sees me, and I have kids that I love and adore whom I’m close to. Giuliani’s been married three times and his kids hate him so much they won’t even talk to him. Who’s the dog?”
“His brother ‘ Allie Boy’, his son ‘ Little Allie Boy’, and his cousin ‘ Mush’ Russo have all been acting bosses for Junior,” Burnstein said. “Mush Russo has kept the family dynasty going more recently. Little Allie Boy was convicted in the
1999 murder of underboss ‘ Wild Bill’ Cutolo, the last true threat to Persico mob regime.”
Persico wanted to do just one thing with his life: be the leader of a gang. His dream came true as a teenager as boss of the Garfield Boys, and his dream came true again when he became the boss of the Colombo crime family. And he wanted to keep that position. “The reason Carmine stayed in power for as long as he did was because he was smart,” Benson said. “Gangsters wanted him in charge, even if he was behind bars. Carmine fucked up less than the rest of them, by a lot. After going away for good, he used his most trusted men, guys he’d known since the Garfield Boys days, to courier information to and from his federal penitentiary.”
Alphonse Little Allie Boy Persico was eventually his successor. The Snake could deal directly with his son far more easily. “He knew the best way to keep power from behind bars was by creating a blood family dynasty that ensured loyalty,” Burnstein said. “Empower close relatives, his son, brothers, nephews, cousins, to run the show on your behalf. He’s as crafty and resourceful as any American mob boss of his era. Persico is a rare blend of intelligence, charisma and lethality, the perfect combination of racketeer and monster. It’s served him well in terms of being able to keep his mob empire intact without having been on the street in three and a half decades.” But there were challenges to his authority and this led to the Third Colombo War.
“This is the point where things went a bit haywire,” McShane said. “While The Snake was locked up, control of
the family went to little Vic Orena, a highly regarded guy who’d been involved with the family as a teen. He had two sons in the Colombos, and they were tight with the Persicos. Orena took his seat with John Gotti and Chin Gigante. But The Snake predictably turned on Orena, and the biggest and bloodiest war followed. Bodies piled up, turncoats… came out. The family was decimated by bullets, defections and trials, with close to 60 members imprisoned. The Colombo clan never recovered from the mess.” Persico was able to maintain power for so long from behind bars because the
angster Carmine P ersico has been a g since he w as a teen and w as accused of murder a t just 17 above- Right Unlike John Gotti, Carmen Persico and his boys didn’t want their pictures in the paper. They were old- school mobsters and didn’t seek fame or attentionbelow When gangsters start gunning for each other innocents get caught in the crossfire. This newspaper reports a victim of the Colombo Wars
only West Side Story, but The Godfather too. “He was cocky and blunt, an immovable object, the guy who was in charge, his every word and gesture designed to enhance his own wealth and control,” Benson said. “Persico acquired power the way other men breathe.” When P ersico w as withthe Garfield Boys the g ang hadvicious br awls with other street g angstha t often resulted in murder
above Shootouts and car chases happened frequently during the Colombo Wars, as the different factions of mobsters tried to kill each other During the Colombo W ars murder was the norm, as mobster turned on mobster
below Prosecutors went after Carmine Persico with a passion in the 1980s. He finally received a total of 139 years in prison
Imprisoned since 1986 ( 139 years) He lives and operates in south Florida. In December 2012, Farese was acquitted of all charges in a federal indictment against himImprisoned since 2000 ( life) The 100- year- old was recently releasedafter an eight- year sentence Currently held at the Brooklyn MetropolitanDetention Center left Carmine Persico pictured in 1986 during the Mafia Commission Trial. He defended himself during the trial but was ultimately found guilty. He is still serving time in prisonServing 63 months for extortion In April 2014 DeLucia was sentencedto 34 months for extortion Shacks is alive and well and living inLos AngelesA capo operating in BrooklynReleased from prison in 2011 for fraud, he has operations in Brooklyn,Manhattan and Staten Island In 2009, Uvino was sentenced to 10 years for running illegal card games and assault. He was released in 2016 He was released from prison on 27 August 2006 for illegal gambling, loansharking and witness tampering The Colombo Crime Family Benjamin ‘ The Claw’CastellazzoActing- UnderbossStatus -ImprisonedCaposDennis DeLuciaJohn ‘ Sonny’ FranzeseCarmine PersicoStatus -Status -Status -Status -Status -Status -Status -Status -Status -FreeUnderbossBossStatus -FreeStatus -Imprisoned Alphonse ‘ AllieBoy’ PersicoDominic ‘ Donnie Shacks’ Montemarano Despite all the internal wars the Colombos have maintained their high- ranking family positionActing BossAndrew ‘ Andy Mush’ RussoFreeStatus -Imprisoned Thomas ‘ Tom Mix’ FareseStreet BossStatus -Imprisoned James ‘ Jimmy GreenEyes’ ClemenzaConsigliereStatus -FreeFreeJoseph BaudanzaFreeMichael UvinoFreeRalph ‘ Ralphie’ LombardoFreeReleased from prison in 2013 As of 2015, Gioeli was incarcerated in federal prison with a projected release date of 9 September 2024Theodore ‘ Teddy’ PersicoFreeThomas ‘ Tommy Shots’ GioeliImprisonedWilliam ‘ Billy’ RussoFree A capo and the youngest son ofAndrew Russo