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The Intriguing Life of Joe Profaci, Mob Boss and Businessman

Dominic Grimaldi

The Dual Life of Joe Profaci, Businessman and Crime Boss

Born Giuseppe Profaci in Villabate, Sicily, in 1897, Joe Profaci led a life that would become synonymous with organized crime in America. His early years in Sicily were marked by a stint in prison, a detail that foreshadowed his future endeavors. At the age of 24, Profaci boarded a ship to the United States, a move that would change the landscape of organized crime in New York City. Initially landing in Chicago, he tried his hand at running a grocery store, but the venture failed to gain traction. Undeterred, Profaci moved to New York City in 1925, a decision that would set the stage for his rise to power.

The Olive Oil Business – A Front and a Fortune

In the bustling streets of New York, Joe Profaci carved out a niche for himself with an olive oil import/export business. While olive oil was the public face of his enterprise, the business was ingeniously designed to serve as a smokescreen for his less-than-legal activities. But let’s not underestimate the olive oil operation; it wasn’t merely a facade. During the scarcity of World War II, the demand for olive oil skyrocketed, and Profaci, ever the opportunist, seized the moment. He didn’t just raise prices; he created a supply chain so efficient that even legitimate businesses couldn’t compete.

Profaci’s olive oil business wasn’t just a money-making machine; it was a masterclass in logistics and market manipulation. He used his legitimate earnings to launder money from his illegal ventures, effectively killing two birds with one stone. The business was so successful that it became a case study in how to run a ‘clean’ operation alongside a criminal empire, a model that many would attempt to emulate but few could replicate. Moreover, the olive oil business had a ripple effect on the local economy. It wasn’t just Profaci who profited; dock workers, truck drivers, and retail employees—hundreds found employment through this venture, making Profaci an unlikely job creator in the eyes of the community.

Building a Criminal Empire

Joe Profaci didn’t stumble into organized crime; he walked into it with a plan, eyes wide open. His olive oil business was the financial bedrock upon which he built his criminal empire. It provided the cash flow to fund his illicit activities and the veneer of respectability to dodge law enforcement. But how did he go from olive oil to becoming a linchpin in the New York underworld? The answer lies in strategic alliances and an uncanny ability to spot opportunity where others saw risk.

Vincent Mangano wasn’t just another Italian immigrant; he was a ticket into the world of organized crime. Having traveled on the same ship from Palermo, their camaraderie was rooted in shared experiences and ambitions. Profaci leveraged this relationship to gain an introduction into the criminal circles of New York. But he didn’t stop at mere introductions; he offered something that the existing crime families couldn’t refuse: a well-oiled (pun intended) money-laundering operation through his olive oil business.

By the late 1920s, Profaci wasn’t just a member of a gang; he was the leader of his own criminal organization. His activities spanned the gamut of illegal enterprises, from loan-sharking and narcotics to prostitution. But what set him apart was his approach to these activities. While others used brute force, Profaci used business acumen. He treated each illegal venture as a separate business unit, complete with its own profit and loss statements. This level of sophistication was unheard of at the time and set the stage for his rapid ascent in the criminal hierarchy.

By 1931, Joe Profaci wasn’t just another gangster; he was a criminal entrepreneur. His empire was vast, but more importantly, it was well-organized. He had lieutenants for each line of business, accountants to track earnings, and lawyers to find loopholes in the law. His operations were so expansive that they caught the attention of the existing Five Families, leading to his inclusion in the Commission, the governing body of the American Mafia. Profaci had achieved what few could: he had built a criminal empire that was as organized and efficient as any legitimate business, setting a precedent for organized crime in America for decades to come.

The Profaci Family and the Five Families

The cessation of the Castellammarese War didn’t just mark the end of a violent chapter in the annals of organized crime; it signaled the rise of Joe Profaci as a criminal titan in New York City. He seized the reins of what would later be christened the Profaci crime family, one of the original Five Families that would dominate New York’s underworld. But let’s be clear: Profaci wasn’t merely a thug in a well-tailored suit; he was a criminal visionary.

While many crime families focused on a narrow set of activities, Profaci saw the wisdom in diversification. His family’s operations were a veritable portfolio of illegal enterprises. Beyond the usual suspects of drug trafficking and illegal bookmaking, the Profaci family ventured into labor racketeering, controlling key unions in the construction and garment industries. This gave them leverage over significant sectors of New York’s economy, turning them into power brokers in their own right.

Profaci also had a knack for talent management, recruiting individuals with specialized skills, from safecrackers to accountants, to manage the family’s diversified interests. This was a far cry from the brute-force methods employed by other families. Profaci’s approach was akin to corporate governance, with a hierarchical structure, regular meetings, and even performance reviews. This level of organization made the Profaci family one of the most efficient criminal enterprises of its time, a fact that did not go unnoticed by law enforcement agencies.

The Commission – Governing the Underworld

If Joe Profaci was a corporate executive in the world of crime, then the Commission was its board of directors. Established by Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano, this governing body was a masterstroke in conflict resolution and organizational efficiency. It brought together the heads of the leading Cosa Nostra families not just from New York, but also from Chicago and Buffalo. The Commission’s primary role was to mediate disputes and prevent internecine wars that could attract undue attention from law enforcement.

Profaci’s seat at this high table wasn’t just a ceremonial position; it was a testament to his influence and strategic importance in the organized crime landscape. He wasn’t merely a participant; he was a key decision-maker. His insights into money laundering and financial management were invaluable to the Commission, which often sought his counsel on these matters. Profaci also played a crucial role in the Commission’s expansion strategies, identifying new territories and business opportunities for the Cosa Nostra families.

But Profaci’s involvement in the Commission wasn’t without its challenges. His innovative approaches sometimes clashed with the more traditional views of other family heads. Yet, even in these moments of tension, Profaci displayed remarkable diplomatic skills, often brokering compromises that were beneficial to all parties involved. His role in the Commission wasn’t just that of a member; he was a mediator, a strategist, and at times, the voice of reason.

Through his involvement in the Commission, Profaci was instrumental in shaping the policies and strategies that would govern organized crime activities across the United States. His influence extended far beyond the boundaries of New York, affecting the operations of Cosa Nostra families in other states and setting the stage for the Mafia’s activities for decades to come.

Legal Troubles and Evasion

Joe Profaci’s life in organized crime was a high-stakes game of cat and mouse with the law. While many of his contemporaries found themselves behind bars, Profaci displayed an uncanny ability to sidestep the legal snares that ensnared so many others. His legal challenges were numerous and varied, ranging from tax evasion to drug trafficking, yet he navigated these treacherous waters with remarkable skill.

One of the most notable instances was his arrest at the Apalachin Conference in 1957, a summit of the American Mafia that was raided by law enforcement. While many were convicted, Profaci was acquitted, a feat that many attributed to his intricate web of legitimate businesses. These enterprises served as both a financial cushion and a smokescreen, complicating the efforts of authorities to build a case against him. Profaci even had connections within the legal community, including lawyers who specialized in criminal defense and tax law, further fortifying his defenses against legal action.

But it wasn’t just about having a safety net; Profaci was proactive in his approach to legal challenges. He invested in information gathering, keeping tabs on law enforcement activities and legislative changes that could impact his operations. This intelligence allowed him to adapt and evolve, staying one step ahead of the authorities and ensuring his continued freedom.

The Profaci-Gallo War

While Profaci was adept at outmaneuvering external threats, he faced significant challenges within his own organization. His insistence on a monthly tithe from his criminal associates was a contentious issue, creating fissures within the Profaci family. Frank Abbatemarco, a high-ranking bookmaker in the organization, openly defied this practice, triggering what would become known as the Profaci-Gallo war.

This internal conflict was not a mere skirmish; it was a full-blown war that shook the foundations of the Profaci family. Kidnappings, murders, and acts of sabotage became the order of the day, disrupting operations and drawing unwanted attention from law enforcement. The war also had financial implications, draining resources and affecting the profitability of various criminal enterprises. It served as a lesson in the limitations of Profaci’s leadership style, revealing cracks in the facade of his well-organized criminal empire.

The Final Years and Legacy

Joe Profaci’s life reached its final chapter in 1962 when he died of liver cancer. While his death marked the end of an era, it did not signify the end of his influence. Joseph Magliocco, Profaci’s brother-in-law, briefly assumed control of the family, maintaining the structures and practices established by Profaci. However, his tenure was short-lived, as the Commission soon appointed Joseph Colombo as the new head, leading to the rebranding of the Profaci family as the Colombo family.

Yet, the legacy of Joe Profaci is far from forgotten. His innovative approaches to organized crime, his business acumen, and his complex relationship with the law have become subjects of study and even admiration. His life serves as a blueprint for the modernization of organized crime, illustrating the potential for criminal enterprises to operate with the efficiency and sophistication of legitimate businesses. Even today, the strategies and structures he put in place continue to influence the operations of organized crime families, not just in New York but across the United States. Profaci’s life may have ended, but his impact reverberates through the annals of American criminal history, a testament to his ingenuity, ambition, and complexity.

Conclusion

Joe Profaci was more than just a mafia boss; he was a complex individual who left an indelible mark on the criminal landscape of New York City. From his early days in Sicily to his final years battling liver cancer, Profaci’s life was a series of calculated moves that built an empire. His ability to balance legitimate business ventures with criminal activities set him apart from his contemporaries and allowed him to evade the law for many years. While his methods may have been questionable, his impact on organized crime and his role in shaping the New York underworld are undeniable.

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