The eight grim men seated around the defendants' table may have looked like a group of grandfathers, but to Chief Prosecutor Michael Chertoff, they were directors of the "largest and most vicious criminal business in the history of the United States." Last week twelve anonymous members of a federal jury in New York City seemed to agree. They convicted the eight men, among whom were the leaders of three of New York City's five Mob families, of running the Mafia as a criminal organization controlled by a powerful commission. Among its activities: murder, extortion and racketeering.
The verdict, the first against the Mafia as a criminal enterprise, was the most damaging blow to La Cosa Nostra struck by the Justice Department in its highly successful crusade to disorganize organized crime. "The Mob," exulted Chertoff, "has been decapitated."
The crime bosses, who could spend most of their remaining years behind bars, are Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno, 75, boss of the Genovese family; Anthony (Tony Ducks) Corallo, 73, don of the Lucchese clan; and Carmine (Junior) Persico, 53, head of the Colombo family. Persico, who acted as his own defense attorney, received a separate 39-year sentence last week for an earlier racketeering conviction; his top aide, Colombo Underboss Gennaro (Gerry Lang) Langella, 47, was convicted in the commission case and sentenced to 65 years in the earlier one. A fourth crime family, the Bonannos, was hit by the conviction of one of its captains, Anthony (Bruno) Indelicato, 30. The jury found that Indelicato had been one of the gunmen who had executed former Bonanno Boss Carmine Galante in the garden of a Brooklyn restaurant in 1979. The Gambinos, the fifth of the New York families that dominate the commission, were not represented. Gambino Boss Paul Castellano was slain on a Manhattan street last December, and his apparent successor, John Gotti, is on trial in yet another New York racketeering case.
At least a dozen Mob leaders from Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Kansas City have been put in prison since last January. Federal and state investigators are confident that the string of convictions will break down the discipline that the Mafia's commission had enforced. Created in the 1930s after a particularly bloody period of gang warfare, the commission divides turf among families, settles disputes and sanctions the slayings of those who break the rules. It now has several vacancies that may not be easy to fill. "The machinery to resolve those disputes has been wiped out," contends Ronald Goldstock, head of the New York State organized-crime task force. But if Mob rivalries are allowed to fester, he notes, the result could be a new outburst of gangland violence.
Goldstock and other investigators think the shrewder members of the Mob may now either pass up the vacant leadership slots or else move into them only gradually to keep from being spotted by press or prosecutors. Predicts Lieut. Remo Franceschini, one of the New York police department's top Mob watchers: "We are going to see a return to the old days, when the Mafia really was a secret organization."