Frank Costello

Mary Stone | May 28, 2023


Frank Costello, born Francesco Castiglia (January 26, 1891 – February 18, 1973), was an Italian-American mobster who rose to the highest positions in the world of crime, controlling a vast gambling empire throughout the United States and wielding political influence like no other Cosa Nostra boss.

Nicknamed the first underworld minister, he became one of the most powerful and influential bosses in the history of the American Mafia, eventually leading a criminal organization, the Luciano family, which later became known as the Genovese family, one of the Five families operating in New York City.

According to Italian birth documents from the province of Cosenza, Frank Costello was born Francesco Castiglia in Lauropoli, a mountain village in the municipality of Cassano allo Ionio in the province of Cosenza of the Calabrian region, Italy, on January 26, 1891. In 1895, at the age of four, he sailed for the United States with his mother and brother Eddie. The family was eager to be reunited with their father, who had immigrated several years earlier to East Harlem and opened a small grocery store in an Italian neighborhood.

Living in New York’s East Harlem in the New York ghettos along with Jews, Puerto Ricans, etc., Francesco’s older brother Eddie introduced him to gang activities when he was still a child. By the age of 13, Francesco had become a member of a local gang and had begun using the name Frankie. He continued to commit petty crime and went to jail for assault and robbery in 1908, 1912 and 1917.

In 1918 he married Lauretta Giegerman, a Jewish girl who was the sister of a close friend of his. That same year, he served ten months in prison for carrying a concealed weapon. After his release, young Frank decided to use his intelligence to prosper in the world of organized crime, eschewing the use of violence as a path to success and wealth. He claimed he would never carry a gun again. He was not incarcerated again for 37 years.

After his release from prison in 1916, he began working with Ciro Terranova, a powerful East Harlem mobster. Terranova was the capo of the Morello family of Manhattan and the gang leader of the 107th Street gang. Frank became a member of a gang that controlled gambling, extortion, robbery and narcotics in Manhattan and the Bronx. His associates included known mobsters such as Michael Coppola, Joseph Catania Jr. and Stefano LaSalle. Frank became known for his intelligence and strength.

While working for Morello’s band, he met and teamed up with Lucky Luciano then known as Salvatore Lucania, the Sicilian leader of Manhattan’s Lower East Side gang. The two Italians hit it off immediately and became friends and partners. Some older members of Luciano’s family disapproved of this growing alliance; they were mostly old-school mobsters, unwilling to work with anyone who was not Sicilian. To Luciano’s surprise, they warned him not to work with Costello, whom they called “the dirty Calabrian”.Along with other young Italians such as Vito Genovese and Gaetano Lucchese, and Jews such as Meyer Lansky and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, the gang became involved in robbery, extortion, gambling and narcotics. The Luciano-Costello-Lansky-Siegel alliance prospered and with the Prohibition era (1920) they moved into bootlegging, backed by criminal financier Arnold “the Brain” Rothstein.

The young Italians’ success allowed them to branch out and do business with the Jewish and Irish criminal leaders of the day, including Arthur Flegenheimer, Owney “the Killer” Madden and William “Big Bill” Dwyer. Rothstein became a mentor to Costello, Luciano, Lansky and Siegel as they ran the bootlegging business with Bronx beer baron Schultz. In 1922, he, Luciano and their closest Italian associates joined the Sicilian Mafia led by Joe Masseria, an Italian mob boss.

By 1924, he had become a close associate of Irish Hell’s Kitchen bosses Dwyer and Madden. Frank was involved in bootlegging operations, known as “The Combine”; this may have caused him to change his surname from Castiglia to one whose sonority was more Irish, Costello being the better choice.

On November 19, 1926, he was indicted along with Dwyer on federal smuggling charges. Also of having bribed two U.S. Coast Guard cutters with $2,700, presumably so that they would not disrupt the landing of liquor with ships in New York Harbor. The largest ship in the Combine fleet was capable of carrying 20,000 cases of liquor. However, in January 1927, the jury deadlocked the smuggling charges against Dwyer and Costello.

In 1926, Combine boss Bill Dwyer was convicted of bribing a U.S. Coast Guard officer and sentenced to two years in prison. After Dwyer was jailed, he took over Combine operations with Owney Madden. This caused friction between Madden and Dwyer’s top lieutenant, Charles “Vannie” Higgins. Higgins, referred to as Brooklyn’s “Last Irish Crime Boss,” believed that he was the one who should control the Combine, not Costello. Thus, the “Manhattan beer wars” broke out between Higgins on one side, and Costello, Madden, and Schultz on the other. At this particular time, Schultz was also having trouble with gangsters Jack “Legs” Diamond and Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll. With Higgins’ help, these two thugs had begun to rival Schultz and his partners. Eventually, the Costello-Madden-Schultz alliance was destroyed by the New York underworld.

He remained a very influential gangster in the 1920s. He kept close associates Luciano, Lansky and Siegel involved in most of his gambling rackets, which included punch cards, slot machines, the gambling industry and floating casinos. He eventually became known as the “underworld prime minister” for the business relationships he maintained with New York criminals, politicians, businessmen, judges and police officers. Because he followed the “Big Three” ideology of mixing crime, business and politics, Costello’s influence in the underworld grew. His fellow gangsters saw Frank as an important liaison between the Mafia and the politicians of Tammany Hall, the New York Democratic Party organization. This relationship gave him and his associates, including Luciano, the opportunity to buy the favors of politicians, judges, district attorneys, city hall officials and anyone else they needed to bribe to run their criminal operations freely.

In 1927 together with Luciano, and former Chicago gangster John “Johnny the Fox” Torrio, they organized a group of East Coast smugglers into a full-scale operation. This gang was able to pool their European and Canadian sources, maximize profits, and get the upper hand on their competitors. The operation became known as the “Big Seven Group,” the first concrete move to organize the American underworld into a national crime syndicate. In May 1929, Costello, Luciano, Torrio, Lansky, and the Atlantic City crime boss

By 1928, Costello and Luciano were considered two young, ambitious, powerful and fearsome gangsters on the rise. However, an internal conflict in the Italian underworld would divert Costello and his associates. Masseria was facing a challenge from Maranzano, recently arrived from Palermo, Sicily, who was born in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily. When Maranzano arrived in New York in 1925, his access to money and power quickly enabled him to set up bootlegging, racketeering and gambling operations that competed directly with Masseria, Costello’s boss. On October 10, 1928, Joe Masseria eliminated his main rival for the coveted title of “boss of bosses,” Brooklyn boss Salvatore “Toto” D’Aquila. However, Masseria still had to deal with the powerful and influential Maranzano and his castellammarese clan.

Joe Masseria became a dictator of the underworld, demanding absolute loyalty and obedience from the other four New York families. In 1930, Masseria demanded $10,000 in tribute from the leader of the Maranzano crime family, and got it. The leader of the Castellammarese clan, Nicolo “Cola” Schirò, fled New York out of fear, leaving Maranzano as the new leader. By 1931, a series of murders in Detroit, Chicago and New York involving members of the castellammarese clan and associates caused Maranzano and his family to declare war on Joe Masseria and his allies. These allies included Costello and his associates, Luciano, Vito Genovese and Joe Adonis. Another Masseria ally was the large Mineo (formerly D’Aquila) crime family, whose members included Costello associates Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia, Carlo Gambino, and Frank Scalice. The Castellammarese clan included Joseph “Joe Bananas” Bonanno and Stefano Magaddino, the Profaci crime family, which included Joseph Profaci and Joseph Magliocco, along with former Masseria allies the Riena family, which included Gaetano “Tommy” Reina, Tommaso “Tommy” Gagliano, and Gaetano Lucchese.

The castellammarese war grew between the Masseria and Maranzano factions for almost two years. This internecine war devastated the Prohibition-era operations and the street thugs that the New York families controlled with the Irish crime groups. The castellammarese war diminished gang profits and in some cases completely destroyed the underworld thugs of the crime family members.

Several of the younger gang members on both sides realized that if the war did not stop soon, the Italian crime families might remain on the periphery of New York’s criminal underworld while the Irish crime bosses would become dominant. However, it was inevitable that a rift would occur because of a fundamental philosophical difference between the Old World crime bosses and their young underlings. Masseria, Maranzano and others who had begun their careers in Italy were known as “Mustache Petes” because they were unwilling to work with non-Italians and were skeptical of dealing with non-Sicilian Italians. Costello, Luciano and their group of “Young Turks,” on the other hand, believed that as long as there was money to be made, they should deal with anyone regardless of their ethnic roots. Costello, Luciano, Siegel and Lansky decided to end the Castellammarese war and secretly planned to eliminate one “Mustache Pete” immediately, then wait a while and kill another.

Luciano and Costello set their plan in motion by secretly agreeing to betray Masseria if Maranzano ended the war. On April 15, 1931, Masseria was shot at Scarpato’s restaurant in Coney Island by Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis and Bugsy Siegel. Luciano then assumed control of the Masseria family, with Costello as his consigliere. This put an end to the castellammarese war, which had led, by some estimates, to around 60 deaths among the gangsters.

However, at a secret meeting in Upstate New York, Maranzano surprised everyone by appointing himself boss of all bosses. Although they had planned to get rid of Maranzano anyway, Costello and Luciano came to believe that Maranzano was even more power-hungry than Masseria had been and moved up their timetable. Maranzano served as chief of bosses until September 10, 1931, when he was assassinated in his office on the ninth floor of the Helmsley Building in Manhattan by gunmen pretending to be Treasury agents. Hired by Lansky and Luciano, the shooters allegedly included Schultz gang lieutenant Abraham “Bo” Weinberg and Murder Inc. gunman Samuel “Red” Levine.

In 1931, after the deaths of Masseria and Maranzano, Luciano became the leader of the new Luciano crime family, with Genovese as underboss and Costello as consigliere. He quickly became one of the Luciano family’s top earners and began to carve out his own niche in the underworld. He controlled the slot machine and bootlegging operations for the Luciano family with his partner Philip “Dandy Phil” Kastel. He placed approximately 25,000 slot machines in bars, restaurants, cafes, drugstores, gas stations and bus stations throughout New York. However, in 1934, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia confiscated thousands of Costello’s slot machines, put them on a barge and dumped them in the river. His next move was to accept Louisiana Governor Huey Long’s proposal to put slot machines all over Louisiana in exchange for 10% of the profit. Costello placed Kastel as supervisor of Louisiana’s slot machine operation. Kastel was assisted by New Orleans mobster Carlos “Little Man” Marcello, who knew every corner of New Orleans where he could put one of Costello’s “one-armed bandits”. He took millions of dollars in slot machine profits and bootlegged booze to the Luciano family. In fact, Costello and Frank Erickson, the overseer of Costello’s illegal gambling operations, are credited with starting the systems used by bookmakers and gamblers across North America.

In 1936, Luciano was convicted of pimping and was sentenced to 30 to 50 years in state prison. Luciano tried to continue running his crime family from prison, with the help of Costello and Lansky, but found it very difficult. Luciano eventually appointed Genovese acting chief. However, in 1937, Genovese was indicted for a 1934 murder and fled to Italy to avoid prosecution. It was then that Luciano appointed Costello as acting chief.

Genovese’s departure to Italy left him in firm control of the Luciano family. With the help of its two top capos, Anthony Strollo, Joe Adonis, Anthony Carfano and Michael “Trigger Mike” Coppola, the crime family continued to operate as normal. Costello’s rule was very profitable, with slot machines in New Orleans with Carlos Marcello, illegal gambling in Florida and Cuba with Meyer Lansky, and illegal racing with Bugsy Siegel in Los Angeles. He also enjoyed more political influence than any other gangster in the country. Unlike Luciano, however, Costello did not believe in the drug trade. This aversion to selling drugs was not something Genovese shared.

He was a popular boss within the crime family; he shared equally in the profits of the family’s operations and demanded no bigger slice for himself than that of the underlings. He apparently owned the third largest poultry firm in all of New York, and a chain of MeatMarts.

In early 1946, Luciano’s prison sentence was commuted and he was deported to Italy. With Genovese also exiled to Italy, he remained the head of the Luciano family.

After Genovese returned to the United States and the 1936 murder indictment was dismissed, he began a campaign to regain Costello’s leadership of the family. Genovese began to build loyalty among the family’s soldiers by lending them money or doing them favors that they might someday repay. The resentment Genovese felt toward Costello was multiplied by the fact that Genovese was no longer one of the family’s top bosses; he was just a capo (caporegime), a street boss in charge of a group of soldiers. However, Genovese was treated as a “don” by the capos and the street soldiers who committed most of the violent crimes (such as murder, or robbery).

Instead, Frank had the support of the capos and soldiers who committed white-collar crimes (such as gambling, usury, construction, etc.) and the family’s many legal investments. Costello’s position as a member of La Comisión and his popularity as a top boss kept him safe from any assassination attempts or power moves by Genovese. To unseat Costello, Genovese needed more support from the Luciano family and the other members of the Commission. Genovese was also deterred from a direct attack on Costello by the strength of the second-in-command, Guarino “Willie Moore” Moretti, a Costello cousin and staunch ally who commanded a small army of soldiers in New Jersey.

From May 1950 to May 1951, the U.S. Senate conducted a full-scale investigation of organized crime, commonly known as the Kefauver Commission. Hearings were held by a special Senate committee chaired by Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, who had been appointed to investigate organized crime in Interstate Commerce. The entire country was transfixed by the procession of 600 gangsters, pimps, politicians and mob lawyers testifying before Congress, shown on television.

By this time, he had become a powerful and respected underworld figure; however, he still longed for high society respectability. He allegedly consulted a psychiatrist to achieve this goal, but ultimately failed to gain legitimate respectability. He was interrogated by the Kefauver Commission, becoming one of the commission’s stars, being called America’s No. 1 gangster and the de facto leader of New York’s Tammany Hall. As rumored, “No one in New York City can be appointed a judge without Costello’s consent.”

He agreed to testify before the committee and not take the Fifth Amendment, unlike all the lowlife figures who preceded him on the stand. The special committee and the television networks were content not to show Frank Costello’s face, only his hands. During cross-examination, he nervously refused to answer some questions and evaded others. When the committee asked “What have you done for your country, Mr. Costello?”, Costello’s gruff voice elicited an infrequent chuckle from the audiences, “Pay my taxes!”. He eventually stormed out of the hearings.

He found the decade of the 1950s very challenging, as the high visibility he had during the Kefauver commission brought him more scrutiny from law enforcement and the media. However, Kefauver’s biggest problems began with the murder of Willie Moretti, his right-hand man. Moretti’s mental condition had caused him to reveal some embarrassing details at the Kefauver Commission. As a result, the American Mafia’s governing Commission ordered his elimination, which occurred on October 4, 1951 in a New York restaurant. In addition to Moretti’s death, Costello was convicted of contempt of the Senate in August 1952 for walking out of hearings and went to jail for 18 months. Released after 14 months, he was charged with tax evasion in 1954 and sentenced to five years in prison. He served 11 months of this sentence before it was overturned on appeal. In 1956 he was convicted again and sent to prison. In early 1957, he was released again on appeal.

Vito Genovese finally made his move on the beleaguered Frank Costello. It began in 1956 when Joe Adonis, a powerful Costello ally, voluntarily chose deportation to Italy rather than a lengthy prison sentence. Adonis’ departure left Costello weakened, but Genovese had yet to neutralize Costello’s most powerful ally, Albert Anastasia. Anastasia, the Brooklyn waterfront boss, had assumed control of the second big family in the United States after the murders of powerful boss Vincent Mangano and his brother Philip Mangano on April 14, 1951. With the addition of Albert Anastasia to the Commission in 1951, the so-called “Liberal Faction,” which included Costello, began to strengthen. In 1953, another liberal ally, Chief Tommy Lucchese, was added to the Commission. As a result, the “Conservative Faction” that had controlled the Commission from 1936 to 1953 now had the liberal Costello-Anastasia-Lucchese alliance as its rival. However, Genovese turned this turn into an opportunity for conflict by approaching Lucchese and Anastasia’s underboss Carlo Gambino to switch sides. The potential reward for eliminating Costello and Anastasia would be the control of the Luciano and Anastasia crime families by Genovese and Gambino.

Genovese had waited patiently for 10 years after his deportation to Italy to make his final move against Frank Costello and the time had come. On May 2, 1957, shortly after Costello’s release from prison, as Costello was going to the elevator in the lobby of The Majestic, his Manhattan apartment building, he was shot in the head by Genovese’s driver and protégé, Vincent ”Chin” Gigante. Before being shot, Gigante shouted “This one’s for you, Frank!” Upon hearing this, he turned his head. Gigante fled the scene thinking Costello was dead. However, Giant’s warning had unknowingly saved Costello and left him with only a scalp wound. After the foiled hit, Giant went into hiding. However, he eventually turned himself in to face a mob trial. Costello refused to identify Gigante as the shooter, so he was acquitted.

Genovese now ordered all members of the Luciano crime family who were loyal to him to show their support by attending a meeting at his New Jersey mansion. All the family capos showed up, except Costello loyalist Anthony Carfano (who was killed for this insult on September 25, 1959). Even though Costello’s attack had failed, Genovese appointed himself head of the Luciano crime family. He then called for a meeting of the National Commission to discuss Mafia affairs in New York and other important matters. Genovese was now in charge of what would eventually become known as the Genovese crime family; exiled in Italy, Luciano was unable to stop this.

After recovering from his stroke, Frank Costello and Vito Genovese made peace before the 1957 Apalachin reunion. Costello agreed to abdicate as head of the family in favor of Genovese. In exchange, Genovese agreed that Costello would retain all of his gambling operations in Louisiana and Florida and his legal business interests. Although Costello was officially demoted to the rank of soldier within the crime family, he was never seen as anything other than one of the top-level bosses.

During his retirement he was known as “The Prime Minister of the underworld”. He still retained power and influence in the New York Mafia and remained busy during his later years. Cosa Nostra bosses, and former associates, such as Carlo Gambino and Tommy Lucchese still visited him in his penthouse at the Waldorf Astoria, seeking advice on important mob matters. Costello’s old friend Meyer Lansky kept in touch with him. Costello busied himself with gardening and exhibited some of his flowers at local horticultural shows.

On February 20, 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court order depriving Costello of his U.S. citizenship. However, on February 17, 1964, the same court vacated a deportation order for Costello, citing a legal technicality.

In early February 1973 he suffered a heart attack at his Manhattan home and was rushed to Doctors Hospital in Manhattan. On February 18, 1973, after 11 days in the hospital, Frank Costello died. It was his 82nd birthday. Frank Costello died in retirement. His quiet funeral was attended by no more than 50 people, most of whom were not connected to the world of crime or the Mafia. Costello is buried in a mausoleum in Saint Michael’s Cemetery in East Elmhurst, Queens.

As a testament to Costello’s influence and fame, Carmine Galante ordered a bomb to be placed at Frank Costello’s burial place upon his release from prison in 1974. By blowing up the bronze doors of Costello’s mausoleum, Galante announced his return to the New York Cosa Nostra scene and finally got his revenge on his old enemy.


  1. Frank Costello
  2. Frank Costello
  3. Sifakis, Carl (1987). The Mafia Encyclopedia. Ciudad de Nueva York: Facts on File. ISBN 0-8160-1856-1.
  4. The Five Families. MacMillan. Consultado el 22 de junio de 2008.
  5. Maas, Peter (1968). The Valachi Papers.
  6. Os criminosos mais famosos da história BOL
  7. 1 2 Frank Costello // Encyclopædia Britannica (англ.)
  8. «Энциклопедия мафии» Архивная копия от 21 сентября 2021 на Wayback Machine, автор Карл Сифакис
  9. ^ a b David Lane (2010). Into the Heart of the Mafia: A Journey Through the Italian South. Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 978-1847651990.
  10. ^ Sifakis, Carl (1987). The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York City: Facts on File. ISBN 0-8160-1856-1.
  11. ^ a b c The Five Families. MacMillan. 13 May 2014. ISBN 9781429907989. Retrieved 2008-06-22.
  12. ^ Stolberg, p. 119
  13. ^ Howard Abadinsky, Organized Crime,” Cengage Learning, 2009, p.115
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