King of the Brooklyn Docks
Albert Anastasia (1902-1957)
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Friction Between Old Friends
As the 1950s opened, Anastasia was a focal point for state and federal racketeering investigations. Government officials named Anastasia as one of the leading figures in a national crime syndicate that ran rackets in major U.S. cities and sentenced its own members to death for disobedience.
Anastasia's name was in the newspapers regularly, causing a great deal of concern for his underworld partners. He was labeled as the Mafia's chief thug, as a smuggler of heroin, as a corruptor of the labor movement.
At the same time, Anastasia's old buddy Willie Moretti was getting himself into trouble. According to legend, Moretti's mind was going (some say it was the result of syphilis), and he was talking too much, about too much, to too many people. With government investigators calling mobsters to televised hearings all across the country, Moretti was becoming a great liability.
Curiously, Anastasia and Moretti were reportedly trusted with a sensitive assignment in October 1951. The syndicate wished to provide a handsome payoff to a jailed bookmaker to ensure that he would not rat out his underworld colleagues. Anastasia and Moretti were asked to take the money to the bookmaker's representative. Moretti's "thing" was gambling (he also dabbled in entertainment, reportedly helping Sinatra become a star), so he was a natural choice. But Anastasia's inclusion in the assignment smells like a setup.
Some of the money disappeared on the way.
Anastasia insisted to the bosses on the Commission that he knew nothing about the missing money. The Commission, dominated at the time by a conservative Sicilian faction, decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, just for the moment.
On Thursday, Oct. 4, 1951, Anastasia was warned to stay away from restaurant called Joe's Elbow Room, which was located near his home on Palisades Avenue in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. Late in the morning, Willie Moretti was killed at that restaurant. Some sources suggest that Anastasia was forced to take a role in setting up the murder of his old friend. Anastasia reportedly asked for and was granted the use of Moretti's driver/bodyguard for the day.
Four men, already at the restaurant when Moretti arrived alone, invited him to their table. The group joked in Italian and laughed for a while together. Two of the men then drew handguns and fired into Moretti's head and face.
According to the press, the old chief of Murder Inc. received word that he should retire at once or he would be next. It seems Anastasia looked into the possibility of retiring to the resort town of Hot Springs, Arkansas. But the community convinced him he was not wanted there.
Apparently deciding against retirement, Anastasia opted instead to improve his stature in the Sicilian-Italian underworld. He moved against his conservative family bosses, the Manganos, and seized control of the organization.
Philip Mangano was found dead in a Canarsie swamp. Vincent Mangano was not found at all. Ever. Anastasia became boss of the family and shifted the balance of power on the Commission.
Tony "Bender" Strollo
His new prestige as boss coupled with his influence at the Brooklyn docks made him a considerable force in organized crime. He also had investments in clothing companies and a small interest in garment workers unions. Through his brother Antonio - a longshoreman union official known at the time as "Tough Tony" - Anastasia was gaining influence with the Manhattan dockworkers. With ally Anthony "Tony Bender" Strollo (a capo in Costello's group), he was also becoming a force on the New Jersey shore.
Left unchecked, Anastasia might have come to own all of the New York-New Jersey waterfront and to threaten the lucrative garment district rackets jealously guarded by other crime families. In a short time, his power and wealth might have entitled him to the old designation of boss of bosses.
On the commission, Anastasia became a strong supporter of Frank Costello. Costello had become the boss of the old Morello-Masseria-Luciano family after Luciano was deported and underboss Vito Genovese exiled himself to Italy to avoid a U.S. murder prosecution. With help from Tommy Lucchese, who succeeded to the leadership post in the Reina-Gagliano family, Costello and Anastasia could counter the influence of New York's ultra-conservative Mafiosi like Joe Bonanno and Joe Profaci.
Trouble With The Tax Man
The new Fort Lee home turned out to be a problem for Anastasia. He could not have afforded to build such a structure on the income he claimed on his tax documents. Federal treasury agents hoped to succeed where local and state law enforcement officials had failed so many times before.
A case for tax evasion was assembled against Anastasia beginning in 1948. At issue were his tax returns for the years 1947 and 1948. During that period of time, Anastasia paid $2,788 in taxes on a reported income of $18,769. The government estimated that it was owed $14,521 in taxes on income that must have been at least $51,075.
One of the more damaging witnesses against Anastasia was a Fort Lee plumber/pipefitter named Charles Ferri. According to Ferri, he did $8,700 worth of work on Anastasia's home. He linked Anastasia directly to payments for the work by noting that he was handed $1,000 from Anastasia himself.
One of the scheduled witnesses in the federal trial did not appear. Anastasia bodyguard Vincent Macri, expected to testify against his boss, was found dead April 25, 1954, in the trunk of his automobile parked in the Bronx.
The jury in the case decided it was hopelessly deadlocked on November 21, 1954, and a mistrial was declared by Judge Albert E. Mondarelli.
The Treasury reloaded and took another shot at Anastasia in spring of 1955. Oddly, Charles Ferri could not be located. After the first trial, he and his wife quickly left Fort Lee and headed south, settling in Miami, Florida. But, even when tracked to the Sunshine State, the Ferris could not be found.
Investigators did find blood spatters in the Ferri's Miami home. They concluded that Anastasia, free on $10,000 bail, was using his favorite legal defense technique.
Just as the second tax evasion trial was set to begin, federal prosecutors received a surprise. Anastasia's attorney Anthony A, Calendra of Newark announced that his client had decided to plead guilty to tax evasion.
The move was a strange one. The Treasury had managed only a mistrial in the first go-round, and its case had not improved with the loss of Ferri. Perhaps things in New York were getting a little hot for Anastasia, and he needed an extended vacation.
Judge Thomas M. Madden imposed a sentence of one year in jail and a $20,000 fine. The punishment was considerably shorter than the maximum of five years per count. On June 14, 1955, U.S. Marshal Joseph Job took Anastasia by airplane to federal prison at Milan, Michigan.
While he was fighting the IRS, Anastasia came under attack from the INS - the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the federal Justice Department.
The first round of that bout was won by the government. On April 27, 1954, federal district Judge William A. Smith signed a denaturalization order against Anastasia. It was decided that the longtime racketeer had lied about his background in his citizenship application. Assistant U.S. Attorney Pierre Garvan was forced to wait for the appeals process to run its course before beginning a formal deportation proceeding.
Three months after he entered prison on the tax evasion conviction, Anastasia received word that the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia had sided with him. By a 2-1 ruling, the court reversed Judge Smith and restored Anastasia's citizenship.
Efforts to remove Anastasia from the United States continued into 1956. On May 14 - a month and a half after his early release from Milan - the United States Supreme Court refused to hear the case, essentially backing the decision of the Appeals Court.
Anastasia's celebratory mood was dampened by news of the death of his brother Giuseppe Anastasio. Giuseppe had risen to the position of pier hiring boss. He was a popular man at the docks. Anastasia saw to it that his brother had a lavish funeral. The cortege was said to be a mile long.
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