Giuseppe "Joe" Profaci (October 2, 1897 – June 6, 1962) was a New York City La Cosa Nostra boss who was the founder of what is today known as the Colombo crime family. Established in 1928, this was the last of the Five Families to be organized. He was the family's boss for over three decades.
Giuseppe Profaci was born in Villabate, in the Province of Palermo, Sicily, on October 2, 1897. In 1920, Profaci spent one year in prison in Palermo on theft charges.
Profaci's sons were Frank Profaci and John Profaci Sr. Frank eventually joined the Profaci crime family while John Sr. followed legitimate pursuits. Two of Profaci's daughters married the sons of Detroit Partnership mobsters William Tocco and Joseph Zerilli.
Profaci's brother was Salvatore Profaci, who served as his consigliere for years, and is known to have been heavily into dealing of pornographic materials. One of Profaci's brothers-in-law was Joseph Magliocco, who would eventually become Profaci's underboss. Profaci's niece Rosalie Profaci was married to Salvatore Bonanno, the son of Bonanno crime family boss Joseph Bonanno. Profaci was the uncle of Salvatore Profaci Jr., also a member of the Profaci crime family.
Rosalie Profaci offered the following description of her uncle:
"He was a flamboyant man who smoked big cigars, drove big black Cadillacs, and did things like buy tickets to a Broadway play for us cousins. But he didn't buy two or three or even four seats, he bought a whole row."
Released from prison in 1921, Profaci emigrated to the United States, arriving in New York City on September 4. Profaci settled in Chicago, where he opened a grocery store and bakery. However, the business was unsuccessful and in 1925 Profaci relocated to New York, where he entered the olive oil import business. On September 27, 1927, Profaci became a United States citizen. At some point after his move to Brooklyn, Profaci became involved with the Sicilian gangs there.
Rise to family boss
On December 5, 1928, Profaci attended a mob meeting in Cleveland, Ohio that would make him an organized crime boss in Brooklyn. In October 1928, Brooklyn boss Salvatore D'Aquila had been murdered during the Castellammarese War then raging among the New York gangs. An important part of the Cleveland meeting, attended by mobsters from Tampa, Florida, Chicago, and Brooklyn, was to appoint Profaci as Aquila's replacement so as to maintain calm among the Brooklyn gangs. Magliocco was named as Profaci's second-in-command.
Given Profaci's lack of experience in organized crime, it is unclear why the New York gangs gave him power in Brooklyn. Some speculated that Profaci received this position due to his family's status in Sicily, where they may have belonged to the Villabate Mafia. Profaci may have also benefited from contacts made through his olive oil business. Cleveland police eventually raided the meeting and expelled the mobsters from Cleveland, but Profaci's business was accomplished.
By 1930, Profaci was controlling numbers, prostitution, loansharking, and narcotics trafficking in Brooklyn. In 1930, the Castellammarese War broke out in New York City. Some sources say that Profaci remained neutral, while others say that Profaci was firmly aligned with Castellammaresee boss Salvatore Maranzano. When the war finally ended in 1931, top mobster Charles "Lucky" Luciano reorganized the New York gangs into five organized crime families. At this point, Profaci was recognized as boss of what was now the Profaci crime family, with Magliocco as underboss and Salvatore Profaci as consigliere.
When Luciano created the National Crime Syndicate, also known as the Mafia Commission, he gave Profaci a seat on the governing board. Profaci's closest ally on the board was Bonanno, who would cooperate with Profaci over the next 30 years. Profaci was also allied with Stefano Magaddino, the boss of the Buffalo crime family.
Business and faith
Profaci obtained most of his wealth through traditional illegal enterprises such as protection rackets and extortion. However, to protect himself from federal tax evasion charges, Profaci still maintained his original olive oil business, known as Mama Mia Importing Company, leading to his nickname as "Olive Oil King". As the demand for olive oil skyrocketed after World War II, his business thrived. Profaci owned 20 other businesses that employed hundreds of workers in New York.
Profaci owned a large house in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, a home in Miami Beach, Florida, and an 328-acre (1.33 km2) estate near Hightstown, New Jersey, which previously belonged to President Theodore Roosevelt. Profaci's estate had its own airstrip and a chapel with an altar that replicated one in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.
Profaci was a devout Catholic who made generous cash donations to Catholic charities. A member of the Knights of Colombus, Profaci would invite priests to his estate to celebrate Mass. In May 1952, a thief stole valuable jeweled crowns from the Regina Pacis Votive shrine in Brooklyn. Profaci sent his men to recover the crowns and reportedly kill the thief. However, accounts of the thief being strangled with a rosary are unfounded.
In 1949, the Vatican received a petition from a group of New York Catholics to confer a knighthood on Profaci. However, when the Brooklyn District Attorney complained about the move, the Vatican denied the petition.
In 1953, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service sued Profaci for over $1.5 million in unpaid income taxes. The taxes were still unpaid when Profaci died nine years later.
In 1954, the US Department of Justice moved to revoke Profaci's citizenship. The government claimed that when Profaci entered the United States in 1921, he lied to immigration officials about having no arrest record in Italy. In 1960, a U.S. Court of Appeals reversed Profaci's deportation order, ending the legal action.
In 1956, law enforcement recorded a phone conversation between Profaci and Antonio Cottone, a Sicilian mafioso, about exporting Sicilian oranges to the United States. In 1959, US Customs agents intercepted one of those orange crates in New York. The crate contained 90 wax oranges containing a total 110 pounds (50 kg) of pure heroin. Smugglers in Sicily had filled the hollow oranges with heroin until they weighed as much as real oranges, then packed them in the crate. Profaci was never prosecuted for this crime.
In 1957, Profaci attended the Apalachin Conference, a national mob meeting, at the farm of mobster Joseph Barbara in Apalachin, New York. While the conference was in progress, New York State Troopers surrounded the farm and raided it. Profaci was one of 61 mobsters arrested that day. On January 13, 1960, Profaci and 21 others were convicted of conspiracy and he was sentenced to five years in prison. However, on November 28, 1960, a United States Court of Appeals overturned the verdicts.
First Colombo war
In contrast to Profaci's generosity to his relatives and the church, many of his soldati considered him miserly and mean-spirited. One reason for their rancor was that Profaci required each family member to pay him a $25 a month tithe, an old Sicilian gang custom. The money, which amounted to approximately $50,000 a month, was meant to support the families of mobsters in prison. However, most of this money stayed with Profaci. In addition, Profaci did not tolerate any dissent from his policies. People who expressed discontent were murdered.
At the end of the 1950s, Profaci received the first challenge to his authority from capo Joe Gallo and his brothers Larry and Albert, perhaps with encouragement from Gambino crime family boss Carlo Gambino, Profaci's main rival on the Mafia Commission. In 1959, Profaci bookmaker Frank Abbatemarco stopped paying tribute to Profaci and owed him $50,000. Profaci allegedly promised Joseph Gallo, who worked with Abbatemarco, his lucrative rackets if Gallo killed him. After the murder Profaci split the bookmaking business, but left nothing for Gallo and his crew.
Infuriated by Profaci's duplicity, the Gallos struck back. In February 1961, the Gallos and their ally Carmine Persico kidnapped Magliocco, Frank Persico, and capo Joseph Colombo. Profaci himself barely escaped capture, being forced to flee his New York mansion in his pajamas. Profaci then flew to Florida and took refuge in a hospital there. For the next few weeks, the two sides negotiated a hostage release. In return for financial concessions from Profaci, the Gallos finally released the four hostages. However, while negotiating with the Gallos, Profaci made a secret deal with Persico to switch sides. In August 1961, Persico lured Larry Gallo to a bar in Brooklyn, where he and his men attempted to strangle him to death. However, Gallo avoided death when a passing policeman interrupted the assassination. The war with the Gallo brothers would continue.
By 1962, Profaci's health was failing. In early 1962, Carlo Gambino and Lucchese crime family boss Tommy Lucchese tried to convince Profaci to resign to end the gang war. However, Profaci strongly suspected that the two bosses were secretly supporting the Gallo brothers and wanted to take control of his family. Profaci vehemently refused to resign; furthermore, he warned that any attempt to remove him would spark a wider gang war. Gambino and Lucchese did not pursue their efforts.
On June 6, 1962, Profaci died in South Side Hospital in Bay Shore, New York of liver cancer. He is buried at Saint John Cemetery in the Middle Village section of Queens in one of the largest mausoleum that has been built on the cemetery.
After Profaci's death, Magliocco succeeded him as head of the family. In late 1963, the Mafia Commission forced Magliocco out of office and installed Joseph Colombo as family boss. At this point, the Profaci crime family became the Colombo crime family.
The legacy of Profaci is reflected in the novel and the film, The Godfather. In The Godfather, Vito Corleone, just like Profaci, owns an olive oil importing business to conceal his criminal activities from the public and law enforcement. In fact, Vito Corleone is the largest olive oil importer in the United States. In the opening scene of The Godfather Part III, Michael Corleone, son of Vito, is named a Commander of the Order of St. Sebastian at a ceremony in St. Patrick's Old Cathedral.