September 22, 1903|
East Harlem, New York, USA
April 3, 1971 (aged 67)|
El Paso, Texas, USA
|Other names||"Anthony Sorge", "Charles Chanbano", "Joe Cargo"|
|Known for||First Mafia member to publicly acknowledge the existence of the Mafia|
Joseph "Joe Cargo" Valachi (September 22, 1903 – April 3, 1971), Italian American, also known as "Charles Chanbano" and "Anthony Sorge" was the first Mafia member to publicly acknowledge the existence of the Mafia. He is also the person who made Cosa Nostra (meaning "Our Thing") a household name.
Career[edit | edit source]
Joseph Valachi was born in East Harlem, New York City, on September 22, 1903. He came from an impoverished Neapolitan immigrant family with a drunken, violent father, and would come to blame this background for his eventual entry into organized crime.
Valachi's criminal career began with a small gang known as "The Minutemen," so called for being able to carry out smash and grab burglaries and escape in under a minute. Valachi was the driver for this band, and his ability to make a quick getaway earned him a reputation as a rising star in the underworld.
In 1923 Valachi was arrested in the aftermath of a botched robbery; he subsequently pled guilty to attempted burglary and was sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment. He was released after nine months and, having been replaced with a new driver, created a new burglary gang.
In the early 1930s, through mob contact Dominick "The Gap" Petrilli, Valachi was introduced to the Cosa Nostra or Mafia, and soon became a soldier in the Reina Family (now known as the Lucchese Family) during the height of the Castellammarese War. Valachi fought on the side of Salvatore Maranzano, who eventually defeated the faction headed by rival Joseph Masseria. After Masseria's murder, Valachi became a bodyguard for Maranzano. However, this position was short-lived, as Maranzano himself was murdered in 1931. Valachi then became a soldier in the family headed by Charles "Lucky" Luciano (eventually known as the Genovese Family), in the crew headed by Anthony "Tony Bender" Strollo. Valachi remained in this position until the time he became an informer.
Federal testimony[edit | edit source]
In October 1963, Valachi had testified before Arkansas Senator John L. McClellan's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the U.S. Senate Committee on Government Operations that the Mafia did exist.
Although Valachi's disclosures never led directly to the prosecution of many Mafia leaders, he was able to provide many details of its history, operations and rituals, aiding in the solution of several uncleared murders, as well as naming many members and the major crime families. His testimony, which was broadcast on radio and television and published in newspapers, was devastating for the mob, still reeling from the November 14, 1957 Apalachin Meeting, where state police had accidentally discovered several Mafia bosses from all over the United States meeting at the Apalachin home of mobster Joseph Barbara. Following Valachi's testimony, the mob was no longer invisible to the public.
He was the son-in-law of Gaetano Reina, having married Reina's oldest daughter Mildred in July 1932 over the objections of her mother, brother, and uncles.
Valachi's motivations for becoming an informer have been the subject of some debate. Valachi claimed to be testifying as a public service and to expose a powerful criminal organization that he blamed for ruining his life, but it is also possible he was hoping for government protection as part of a plea bargain in which he was sentenced to life imprisonment, avoiding the death penalty for a murder he committed in prison on June 22, 1962. While in prison, Valachi feared that mob boss Vito Genovese had ordered his death as a traitor. Using a pipe left near some construction work, he bludgeoned to death an inmate whom he mistook for Joseph DiPalermo, a Mafia member he believed was commissioned to kill him. (Valachi and Genovese were both serving sentences for heroin trafficking.) After time with FBI handlers, Valachi came forward with a story of Genovese giving him a kiss on the cheek, which he took as a "kiss of death". No one has ever corroborated this.
After the U.S. Department of Justice first encouraged and then blocked publication of Valachi's memoirs, a biography heavily influenced by those memoirs and by interviews with Valachi was written by journalist Peter Maas and published in 1968 as The Valachi Papers, forming the basis for a later movie of the same title starring Charles Bronson in the title role.
It is commonly held that Vallachi with his low level ranking and relatively little contacts could have never known as much as he told. What actually happened is that the FBI had made him tell lots of information they had gotten by not formally approved "bugs"(tapes). It was Valachi's voice that allowed them to get out the information they could have not admitted to had. [Bringing Down the Mob http://www.amazon.com/Bringing-Down-Mob-Against-American/dp/B005CDV4T6]
Imprisonment and death[edit | edit source]
On June 22, 1962, Valachi killed a man while serving his sentence. In 1966, Valachi attempted to hang himself in his prison cell, using an electrical extension cord. He died of a heart attack in 1971 at La Tuna Federal Correctional Institution in Texas, having outlived Vito Genovese by two years. The $100,000 bounty placed on Valachi's head by Genovese went uncollected.
See also[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]
- Their Thing, Time, August 16, 1963
- Maas, Peter (1986). The Valachi Papers. New York: Pocket Books. pp. 35–36. ISBN 0-671-63173.
- Maas, p. 16
- Maas, pp. 38-42
- Maas, pp. 42-43
- Killers in Prison, Time, October 4, 1963
- "The Smell of It", Time, October 11, 1963
- Jerry Capeci. (2002) "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia", Alpha Books. p. 200. ISBN 0-02-864225-2
- His Life and Crimes, Time, January 17, 1969
[edit | edit source]
- Seize The Night: Joseph Valachi
- Joseph Valachi at Find A Grave
- The Dying of the Light: The Joseph Valachi Story by Thomas L. Jones