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|Founded by||Charles Matranga|
|Founding location||New Orleans, Louisiana, United States|
|Years active||c. 1860s-present|
|Territory||Various neighborhoods in New Orleans|
|Ethnicity||Made men (full members) are men of Italian descent. Other ethnicities are employed as "associates."|
|Membership||Unknown made members, Unknown associates|
|Criminal activities||Racketeering, robbery, gambling, contract killing, drug trafficking, aircraft hijacking, smuggling, bribery, loan sharking, bookmaking, fraud, assault, fencing, money laundering, labor racketeering, extortion, murder, arms trafficking, and theft|
|Allies||Gambino, Genovese and other crime families|
|Rivals||Various gangs in New Orleans|
The New Orleans crime family is an Italian-American Mafia Crime family based in the city of New Orleans. The Crime Family has a history of criminal activity dating back to the late nineteenth century. The family reached its height of influence under Carlos Marcello, one of the world's most powerful, richest and dangerous crime bosses during the mid-twentieth century and at its height had over 300 made members and around 3,000 criminal associates. However, a series of setbacks during the 1980s reduced its clout, and law enforcement dismantled most of what remained shortly after Marcello's death in 1993. In spite of this, it is believed that some elements of the organization remain active in the Big Easy today.
The Matranga crime family, established by Charles (1857 - October 28, 1943) and Antonio (Tony) Matranga (d. 1890 ?), was one of the earliest recorded American Mafia crime families, operating in New Orleans during the late 19th century until the beginning of Prohibition in 1920.
Born in Sicily, Carlo and Antonio Matranga settled in New Orleans during the 1870s where they eventually opened a saloon and brothel. Using their business as a base of operations, the Matranga brothers began establishing lucrative organized criminal activities including extortion and labor racketeering. Receiving tribute payments from Italian laborers and dockworkers, as well as from the rival Provenzano crime family (who held a near monopoly of commercial shipping from South American fruit shipments), they eventually began moving in on Provenzano fruit loading operations intimidating the Provenzanos with threats of violence.
Although the Provenzanos withdrew in favor of giving the Matrangas a cut of waterfront racketeering, by the late 1880s, the two families eventually went to war over the grocery and produce businesses held by the Provenzanos. As both sides began employing a large number of Sicilian mafiosi from their native Monreale, Sicily, the violent gang war began attracting police attention, particularly from New Orleans police chief David Hennessy who began investigating the warring organizations. Within months of his investigation, Hennessy was shot by several unidentified attackers while walking home on the night of October 15, 1890; he died of his wounds less than twelve hours later, having failed to identify his assailants beyond allegedly claiming "The Dagoes shot me". The shooter was never positively identified and the assassination remains unsolved.
The murder of Hennessey created a huge backlash from the city and, although Charles and several members of the Matrangas were arrested, they were eventually tried and acquitted in February 1891 with Charles Matranga and a 14-year-old member acquitted midway through the trial as well as four more who were eventually acquitted and three others released in hung juries. The decision caused strong protests from residents, angered by the controversy surrounding the case (particularly in the face of incriminating evidence and jury tampering), and the following month a lynch mob stormed the jail killing 11 of the 19 defendants—five of whom had not been tried—on March 14, 1891.
Matranga was able to escape from the vigilante lynchings and, upon returning to New Orleans, resumed his position as head of the New Orleans crime family eventually forcing the declining Provenzanos out of New Orleans by the end of the decade. Matranga would rule over the New Orleans underworld until shortly after Prohibition when he turned over leadership over to Sylvestro "Sam" Carollo in the early 1920s.
Born in Sicily, Carolla immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1904. By 1918, Carolla had become a high-ranking member of Matranga's organization, eventually succeeding him following Matranga's retirement in 1922. Assuming control of Matranga's minor bootlegging operations, Carolla waged war against rival bootlegging gangs, gaining full control following the murder of William Bailey in December 1930.
Gaining considerable political influence within New Orleans, Carolla is said to have used his connections when, in 1929, Al Capone supposedly traveled to the city demanding Carolla supply the Chicago Outfit (rather than Chicago's Sicilian Mafia boss Joe Aiello) with imported alcohol. Meeting Capone as he arrived at a New Orleans train station, Carolla, accompanied by several police officers, reportedly disarmed Capone's bodyguards and broke their fingers, forcing Capone to return to Chicago.
In 1930, Carolla was arrested for the shooting of federal narcotics agent Cecil Moore, which took place during an undercover drug buy. Despite support by several New Orleans police officers who testified Carolla was in New York at the time of the murder, he was sentenced to two years.
Released in 1934, Carolla negotiated a deal with New York mobsters Frank Costello and Phillip "Dandy Phil" Kastel, as well as Louisiana Senator Huey Long, to bring slot machines into Louisiana, following New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's attacks on organized crime. Carolla, with lieutenant Carlos Marcello, would run illegal gambling operations undisturbed for several years.
Carolla's legal problems continued as he was scheduled to be deported in 1940, after serving two years in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, following his arrest on a narcotics charge in 1938. His deportation was delayed following the U.S. entry into World War II, and Carolla would continue to control the New Orleans crime family for several years before a campaign, begun by reporter Drew Pearson, exposed an attempt by Congressman Jimmy Morrison to pass a bill awarding Carolla with American citizenship (thereby making deportation illegal). Carolla would be deported in April 1947.
Soon after returning to Sicily, Carolla organized a partnership with fellow exile Charles Luciano, establishing criminal enterprises in Mexico. Briefly returning to the United States in 1949, he was deported the following year as control of the New Orleans crime family reverted to Carlos Marcello. Living in Palermo, Sicily until 1970, Carolla once again returned to the US. According to Life Magazine, he was asked to return by Marcello, who needed him to mediate disputes within the New Orleans Mafia. After a subsequent attempt to deport him failed, he died a free man in 1972.
Born to Sicilian parents in French Tunisia, Carlos Marcello came to the United States as an infant in 1911. His family settled in a decaying plantation house near Metairie, Louisiana. Marcello later turned to petty crime in the French Quarter, which was then New Orleans' Little Italy. He was imprisoned for leading a crew of teenage gangsters who carried out armed robberies in the small towns near New Orleans. These charges were later dropped, but the following year[clarification needed] he was convicted of assault and robbery, and was sentenced to the State penitentiary for nine years, eventually serving five.
In 1938, Marcello was arrested and charged with the sale of 23 pounds (slightly more than 10 kilograms) of marijuana. Despite receiving another lengthy prison sentence and a $76,830 fine, Marcello served less than 10 months in prison. On his release from prison, Marcello became associated with Frank Costello, the leader of the Genovese crime family in New York.
By the end of 1947, Marcello had taken control of Louisiana's gambling network. He had also joined forces with Meyer Lansky in order to take over and split the profits from some of the most important gambling casinos in the New Orleans area. According to former members of the Chicago Outfit, Marcello was also assigned a cut of the money skimmed from Las Vegas casinos in exchange for providing muscle in Florida real estate deals. By this time Marcello had been crowned as the Godfather of the Mafia in New Orleans by the family's capos and the Commission. He was to hold this position for the next 30 years.
On March 24, 1959, Marcello appeared before the Senate Committee investigating organized crime. Serving as chief counsel to the committee was Robert F. Kennedy; his brother, Senator John F. Kennedy, was a member of the committee. In response to committee questioning, Marcello again invoked the Fifth Amendment by refusing to answer any questions relating to his background, activities, and associates.
After becoming president, John F. Kennedy appointed his brother, Robert Kennedy, as U.S. Attorney General. The two men worked closely together on a wide variety of issues including the attempt to tackle organized crime. In March 1961, the Attorney General took steps to have Marcello deported to Guatemala (the country Marcello had falsely listed as his birthplace). On 4 April, Marcello was arrested by the authorities and taken forcibly to Guatemala, and left in a remote rural area. Marcello and one of his associates narrowly escaped being murdered by two South American men for what little money they had allegedly guiding them back to a city, where they could return to the United States. Marcello barely survived this incident, and sustained fairly serious, or at least very painful, injuries in his escape.
Marcello soon returned to the United States. Undercover informants reported that Marcello made several threats against John F. Kennedy, at one time uttering the traditional Sicilian death threat/curse, "Take the stone from my shoe." This claim is disputed; some of those who knew him suggested that Marcello did not know enough Italian to utter such a threat. In September 1962, he told private investigator Edward Becker that a dog will continue to bite you if you cut off its tail (meaning Attorney General Robert Kennedy). Whereas if you cut off the dog's head (meaning President Kennedy), it would cease to cause trouble. Becker reported that Marcello "clearly stated that he was going to arrange to have President Kennedy killed in some way." Marcello told another informant that he would need to take out "insurance" for the assassination by "setting up some nut to take the fall for the job, just like they do in Sicily." It should be noted that at this time, Lee Harvey Oswald, a former Marine who had defected to the Soviet Union and lived there as an expatriate before returning to the United States, was routinely seen in the French Quarter of New Orleans distributing communist materials. It is believed by many that Oswald was selected due to his former ties to the Soviet Union, so that the FBI would quickly end the investigation of Kennedy's assassination rather than allow Oswald's connections to the Soviet Union grow into a conspiracy theory that the Soviet Union had some involvement in the assassination risking rising hostilities during the cold war.
Just before Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, Jack Ruby made contact with Marcello, and another Mafia leader, Santos Trafficante, about a labor problem he was having with the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA). Jack Ruby was a known associate of the Marcello family, who operated a strip club in Dallas.
In 1966 Marcello was arrested in New York City after having met with the National Commission. The meeting was reportedly called because Marcello's leadership was being challenged by Tampa Mafia boss Santo Trafficante, Jr. and Anthony Carollo, the son of Marcello's predecessor as boss of the New Orleans Mafia. The Commission had reportedly ruled in Marcello's favor just before the police burst in.
Marcello was then charged with consorting with known felons and after a long drawn out legal battle he was eventually convicted of assaulting an FBI agent whom he had punched in the face on his return to Louisiana. Sentenced to two years in prison, he served less than six months, and was released on 12 March 1971.
G. Robert Blakey, chief counsel and staff director to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, published The Plot to Kill the President in 1981. In the book Blakey argues that there was a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy. He believes that Lee Harvey Oswald was involved but believes that there was at least one gunman firing from the Grassy Knoll. There is evidence to support the fact that if any such second gunman was present, it may well have been the father of actor Woody Harrelson, Charles Harrelson, who was believed to have been found in a nearby railroad car dressed as one of three hobos, but clean shaven with well cut and groomed hair. Harrelson's father was later convicted of the 1979 assassination of a San Antonio Federal Judge, nicknamed "Maximum" John Wood, for his custom of sentencing drug dealers to maximum sentences, and sentenced to life in prison where he died in 2007. Blakey came to the conclusion that Marcello, along with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana and Tampa, Florida Mafia leader Santo Trafficante, Jr., planned the assassination.
On January 14, 1992, a New York Post story claimed Marcello, Jimmy Hoffa and Santo Trafficante had all been involved in the assassination of President Kennedy. Attorney Frank Ragano was quoted as saying that at the beginning of 1963, Hoffa had told him to take a message to Trafficante and Marcello telling them to kill Kennedy. When the meeting took place at the Royal Orleans Hotel, Ragano told the men: "You won't believe what Hoffa wants me to tell you. Jimmy wants you to kill the president." Ragano reported that neither man was surprised or alarmed by the message.
In his autobiography Mob Lawyer (co-written with journalist Selwyn Raab), Ragano added that in July 1963, he was once again sent to New Orleans by Hoffa to meet Marcello and Trafficante concerning plans to kill President Kennedy. After Kennedy was killed, Hoffa apparently told Ragano: "I told you that they could do it. I'll never forget what Carlos and Santo did for me." He added: "This means Bobby is out as Attorney General". Marcello later told Ragano: "When you see Jimmy (Hoffa), you tell him he owes me and he owes me big."
In 1981, Marcello was convicted on charges relating to an undercover sting and was sentenced to federal prison. There, in 1985, Marcello bragged to prison cell mate and FBI informant Jack Van Laningham (and recorded on FBI wiretaps) that he ordered the hit on Kennedy, masterminded the assassination and planted red herrings to confuse the press and embarrass the FBI and CIA into suppressing evidence that would have revealed illegal covert U.S. operations in Cuba.
Carlos Marcello died in one of his mansions in Metairie, Louisiana on 3 March 1993 as a free man, having been released in 1989 after his initial conviction on bribery charges was overturned.
The New Orleans Combine frequently met at a well-known exclusive Italian restaurant, Mosca's, built in 1946 beside Highway 90 west of Avondale in what at the time was a mostly rural area, across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. It has been said that Mosca's was the epicenter for Carlos Marcello and his many associates. It is still in operation today after renovations by the Mosca family following Hurricane Katrina. Another restaurant in the Fat City area of Jefferson Parish was the frequent eating establishment of Marcello's brother, Sammy Marcello, well into the 1990s. The restaurant, Salvatori's, was known for its delicious five star cuisine, but is now permanently closed.
The Marcello family and descendants still own or control a significant amount of real estate in Southeast Louisiana. Locals often cite legends alluding to the possibility of many bodies being dumped in the swamps owned or formerly owned by the Marcello family, and the subsequent consumption of these deceased individuals by local alligators.
(Early history See Notes)
1.This list excludes the leaders of the early New Orleans "Esposito-Provenzano Mafia faction". In 1881, after the deportation of Mafia boss Giuseppe Esposito the New Orleans Mafia War begins. The two fighting factions were the "Matranga group" and the "Provenzano group". The fighting ended by 1891, with the Provenzano faction losing control of the New Orleans dock rackets and their power in the Mafia underworld.
Leaders of the Esposito-Provenzano faction battled with the early Matranga faction for control of the Italian Mafia in New Orleans.
The 1999 HBO movie Vendetta, starring Christopher Walken and directed by Nicholas Meyer, is based on the true story of the March 14, 1891 lynchings of eleven Italians in New Orleans. Charles Matranga (also spelled "Mantranga" in some documents) was one of the intended victims, but managed to survive by hiding from the mob. In the Journal of American History, historian Clive Webb calls the movie a "compelling portrait of prejudice".