Vito “Don Vitone” Genovese was an Italian-American mobster who rose to power during Prohibition as an enforcer in the American Mafia. A long-time associate and childhood friend of Charles Luciano, Genovese took part in the Castellammarese War and helped shape the rise of the Mafia and organized crime in the United States. Take a look below for 30 more interesting and scary facts about Vito Genovese.
1. He would later lead Luciano’s crime family, which was renamed the Genovese crime family by the authorities.
2. He was known as Boss of all Bosses from 1957 to 1959 when he ruled one of the wealthiest, most dangerous, and most powerful criminal organizations in the world and maintained power and influence over other crime families in America.
3. Along with childhood friend and former boss, Luciano, he is deemed responsible for expanding the heroin trade to an international level.
4. For a brief period during World War II, he supported Benito Mussolini’s regime in Italy for fear of being deported back to the United States to face murder charges.
5. Genovese served as mentor to Vincent “Chin” Gigante, the future boss of the Genovese crime family.
6. While he helped usher in a new era in organized crime, his tenure as boss led to several incidents that were detrimental to the American Mafia’s power.
7. He ordered several highly publicized murders and when he called a meeting with all the Mafia bosses in the country to consolidate his power, the meeting was raided by the police.
8. He scared underling Joe Valachi into becoming the first member of the American Mafia to publicly acknowledge its existence and testify as a government witness.
9. According to Valachi, Genovese was a murderer with his own set of rules: “If you went to Vito and told him about some guy who was doing wrong, he would have this guy killed and then he would have you killed for telling on the guy.”
10. Genovese was born on November 27, 1897, in Risigliano, a frazione in the commune of Tufino, near Naples, in Italy.
11. His father was Felice and his mother Nunziata.
12. Vito had two brothers, Michael and Carmine, who also belonged to Genovese’s crime family. His cousin, Michael, became boss of the Pittsburgh crime family.
13. Genovese was a man of modest height who stood at 5’7″. He and his family lived a quiet life in a house in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey.
14. As a child in Italy, Genovese completed school only to the American equivalent of the fifth grade.
15. When Genovese was 15 years old, his family emigrated to the United States and took up residence in Little Italy, Manhattan.
16. Genovese started his criminal career stealing merchandise from pushcart vendors and running errands for mobsters. He later collected money from people who played illegal lotteries.
17. One of Genovese’s early friends was Lucky Luciano, later a major leader of the Cosa Nostra. At 19, Genovese spent a year in prison for illegal possession of a firearm.
18. In the early 1920s, Genovese started working for Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria, the boss of a powerful Manhattan gang.
19. Involved in bootlegging and extortion, Genovese’s main value to Masseria was his propensity for violence.
20. In 1930, Genovese was indicted on counterfeiting charges when police found $1 million of counterfeit U.S. currency in a Bath Beach, Brooklyn workshop.
21. In 1930, Genovese allegedly murdered Gaetano Reina, the leader of a Bronx-based gang. Reina had been a Masseria ally, but Masseria decided to kill him after beginning to suspect him of secretly helping Masseria’s archival, Brooklyn gang leader Salvatore Maranzano.
22. On February 26, 1930, Genovese ambushed Reina as he was leaving his mistress’s house in the Bronx and shot him in the back of the head with a shotgun. Masseria then took direct control of the Reina gang.
23. Following his wife dying of tuberculosis in late 1931, Genovese killed an associate and married the man’s widow, a woman he openly coveted, two weeks later in the early spring of 1932. His reputation for viciousness was only enhanced.
24. When Luciano was sent to prison for running prostitutes in 1936, Genovese was promoted to acting boss of the crime family.
25. He was only in the job for a year when he fled the United States for Italy, worrying that he was on the verge of being indicted for the 1934 murder of Ferdinand Boccia, an associate of Genovese who fell out with him over a rigged card game.
26. When in Italy, Genovese kept his Mafia profile high, dabbling in numerous black market rackets, forging ties with Italian and Sicilian dons, keeping his criminal empire back in New York growing through acting boss Frank Costello, a notorious underworld fix-it man and political point man.
27. Genovese was arrested by Italian authorities for a stolen-property ring involving a U.S. Army base in August, 1944. Not long after, he was back in New York to face charges for the Boccia murder from more than a decade before.
28. He was indicted in June, 1945, in the wake of the FBI gaining the cooperation of Genovese assassin Ernie “The Hawk” Rupolo months earlier.
29. Genovese ordered Costello killed in May, 1957, a hit attempt that failed but nonetheless pushed Costello into retirement.
30. Indicted for narcotic trafficking, Genovese was convicted in 1959 and sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. He wouldn’t leave alive. Genovese died of a heart attack on Valentine’s Day in 1969 in a prison hospital in Missouri.