New York Daily News

‘Mafia Terror’ details the rise, fall of NYC mob boss Carmine Galante


This gangster was no goodfella. Other mafiosi lived by a code. There were certain things a man did not do. Carmine Galante did them.

He muscled in on other mobsters’ territory. He sold dope. He even killed a policeman.

Finally, the mob had enough and had him whacked..

His story is told in “The Cigar: Carmine Galante, Mafia Terror” by Frank Dimatteo and Michael Benson. And even by gangland standards, it’s an ugly one.

“Galante once shot a kid, a little girl,” the authors write. “All right, it was an accident, he was aiming at a cop, but he shot a kid. One story has him throwing a plate of boiling spaghetti in a pretty girl’s face. … By all accounts he was born evil, bad to the bone from birth.”

Born in 1910, Galante grew up on E. 101st St. when that part of Harlem was still Italian. His schooling was sketchy, occasional­ly interrupte­d by stretches in reform school. At 15, he dropped out and started doing odd jobs for gangsters. A stocky 5-feet5, his specialty was beating people up.

At 15, he did his first stint in jail, a few months for petty larceny and assault. By the next year, he graduated to armed robbery. That earned him more than three years in Sing Sing. When he got out, he was 20, and a rising star in the rackets. They called him Lilo — cigar — for the stogie always stuck in the corner of his mouth.

One of his first crimes out of prison was knocking over the Martin-Weinstein Shoe Co. in Brooklyn. But something seemed to go wrong. When Galante and his gang left, more than $7,000 in payroll was still on the table — and patrolman Walter O. De Castillia was shot and bleeding to death on the floor.

Was it simply a botched robbery? Or had the heist only been a cover for the assassinat­ion of a cop?

No one was talking — including the eyewitness­es interviewe­d by police. It remains “the oldest ‘unsolved’ cop killing in NYC history,” the authors write. “Everyone knew who did it — they just couldn’t prove it.”

Soon after, Galante hit the Lieberman Bushwick Brewery with three accomplice­s. “The men, $4,000 richer, didn’t immediatel­y attempt to get away but instead broke out the back of a truck outside the brewery to snatch some free beer.”

Their thirst and sloppiness gave Detective Joseph Meenahan time to spot them and call them out. The crooks decided to make a run for it — but first, they turned and emptied their guns. “Eat lead, copper,” Galante reportedly snarled. A 6-year-old bystander, Shirley Hershowitz, caught one slug in the leg. Meenahan was shot five times.

Remarkably, four of the bullets never got past his bulky winter coat. The fifth hit him in the thigh, but that didn’t stop Meenahan from giving chase. Galante was quickly caught and, 15 days later, was returned to Sing Sing — this time for 12½ years.

Clearly, armed robbery was not Galante’s forte.

Released in 1939, he decided to find steadier, perhaps more straightfo­rward work. He became the hit man for mob boss Vito Genovese. Although the authors judge the number of Galante’s victims as “unaccounta­ble,” at one point, the NYPD linked him to 80 murders.

The most famous was Carlo Tresca’s in 1943. A journalist, labor leader and committed anarchist, Tresca spoke out against Stalin and Hitler. As an Italian immigrant, though, he particular­ly despised Mussolini.

Unfortunat­ely for Tresca, that dictator had a powerful friend in Genovese.

And so, one night, as Tresca stepped off the corner of Fifth Ave. and 15th St., he took a fatal bullet to the back of his head.

Witnesses saw the short man who calmly walked up and plugged him. They also saw the getaway car. Police later found a suspicious­ly similar one abandoned. And, the plate even matched one on an automobile Galante had been seen getting into earlier. The cops picked him up.

But, typically, Galante wouldn’t admit to anything. Witnesses wouldn’t talk.

The crime was never solved.

By the 1950s, Galante had moved up in the mob, acting as consiglier­e — adviser — to crime boss Joseph Bonanno. They formed a partnershi­p with Sicilian mobsters — and exiled gangster Lucky Luciano — to bring heroin to America.

It was an ugly, high-profile business other mobsters usually avoided, and with good reason. Drugs attracted the feds and constant surveillan­ce.

Yet, despite the wiretaps, keeping tabs on Galante proved to be complicate­d. Over the years, he not only married and had children but had a common-law wife and a second batch of kids he kept stashed in New Jersey.

He was finally indicted on dope charges in 1958 and released on bail. Additional charges followed a year later.

Justice was slow, delayed by a mistrial when the jury foreman suffered a near-fatal fall down a flight of stairs. What the elderly

man had been doing walking around an abandoned building anyway was never satisfacto­rily explained.

But in 1962, Galante was convicted of conspiracy to evade narcotics laws. He received 20 years and did the time. It was easy. He spent a lot of it playing handball in the yard. He was unbeatable, too, but not because he was that good.

“I am to win all the games,” Galante instructed fellow convicts.

“When one opponent disobeyed the rule, Galante walked up to him and slapped him across the face,” they write. “‘I rule everything,’ ” Galante said. “‘And when I get out of this prison, I will show this to everyone.’ ”

He sure tried. Released in 1972, Galante informed cronies that he was taking over as boss of the Bonanno crime family. He made it clear: Resistance wasn’t just futile. It was fatal.

But then, subtlety had never been his strong point. One of his longtime rivals, Frank Costello, died while Galante was in prison. Costello’s widow had him interred in an elaborate mausoleum. Galante had his boys blow up the tomb to show everyone who was really the boss.

Galante moved quickly, becoming involved in everything from pornograph­y to mozzarella. You wanted a dirty movie for your theater, cheese for your pizzeria? You had to talk to Galante’s people and pay his price. Soon he would be, he bragged, “the Boss of Bosses.”

The other bosses ordered a hit.

On July 12, 1979, Galante was in Bushwick, enjoying lunch at Joe and Mary’s Italian-American Restaurant. Sitting on the patio, he was lighting a cigar when three men in ski masks burst in. The first shotgun blast caught Galante full in the chest.

When the news photograph­ers arrived, the mobster was cold on the floor. The cigar was still clenched between his teeth.

There weren’t many mourners when he was buried out in Queens. They included his lawyer, Roy Cohn, his wife, and his daughter from his second family. (Her mother stayed home out of respect for the widow.)

The Catholic Church refused to approve a funeral Mass, so a priest was found who mumbled a few words over the grave. It was a sad, cheap send-off — and totally fitting.

“Galante was so bad,” reported the FBI agent sent to surveil the scene, “no one wanted to be around him even when he was dead.”

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 ?? ?? Mafioso Joseph Bonanno (center main) and doomed mobster Carmine Galante (left). Galante’s gravesite is above.
Mafioso Joseph Bonanno (center main) and doomed mobster Carmine Galante (left). Galante’s gravesite is above.

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