Costello, Frank (1891-1973)

Born Cosenza, Calabria, Italy, Jan. 26, 1891.

Died New York, NY, Feb. 18, 1973.


Costello was born Francesco Castiglia in Cosenza, Italy, in 1891 and was taken to New York by his family at age 4. His family settled first in Italian East Harlem (108th Street), within the territory of the Terranova Mafia clan, and later relocated to Manhattan's Greenwich Village.

As a youth, Costello involved himself in the Five Points Gang. He eventually was initiated into the Mafia but often worked independent criminal enterprises with non-Italian partners. He was discharged after teenage arrests for assault and robbery, but he was jailed for a year after a concealed weapon conviction in 1915.

Costello moved wholeheartedly into illegal alcohol distribution during Prohibition Days and coordinated bootlegging activities across the country. Known as the "Prime Minister of the underworld," he cultivated contacts among elected government officials and bureaucrats and could provide insurance that law enforcement would leave alone the enterprises he sponsored.

During the Castellammarese War, Costello nominally served Joe Masseria's New York organization.

He busied himself with gambling ventures in the 1930s, obtaining official government OKs to place slot machines everywhere in New York. That brought him into direct conflict with reform Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who, despite court protection of the slots, collected all the machines in 1934 and personally destroyed them with a sledge hammer.

When Charlie Luciano was jailed in 1936, Costello was named to head the main Manhattan crime family and to guide the Mafia Commission that served as supreme arbiter of the American Mafia. Friction began between Costello and Vito Genovese, who had been Luciano's underboss. Conflict was avoided when Genovese fled to Italy to avoid a murder prosecution in the U.S.

By 1945, Genovese returned to New York. Luciano was in Italy after a compulsory prostitution conviction and deportation, and there was little, aside from the reputation of Costello's ruthless and rabidly loyal ally Albert Anastasia, to prevent a confrontation between Costello and Genovese.

Costello found hosts for his slot machines in Louisiana, where they were looked after by "Dandy Phil" Kastel. In the 1950s, Kastel and Costello opened the Beverly Club casino in Jefferson Parish, just outside of New Orleans. Costello also appears to have been interested in Las Vegas casino gambling.

It took a decade for the long-simmering Costello-Genovese feud to boil over. During that decade, Costello was hounded both by Genovese allies and by government agencies. He was called to testify before the Kefauver Committee and generated some of the more interesting moments in the televised proceedings when he insisted that cameras focus on his hands rather than his face. Costello subsequently was sent to prison for contempt of the Senate, for contempt of a New York grand jury and for tax evasion. The U.S. government also revoked Costello's citizenship and repeatedly tried to deport him to Italy.

In 1957, Costello was shot in the head by a would-be assassin's bullet. The bullet, however, only grazed the mob boss. He bled a bit but survived. Vincent Gigante was arrested for the attempted assassination, but Costello did not aid the prosecution.

Costello's close friend Anastasia was not so fortunate. He was murdered later in the year.

Costello announced his retirement from active Mafia life and turned the Luciano Family over to his rival Genovese. In later years, when Costello was serving a sentence for tax evasion and Genovese for narcotics, the two men met in Atlanta's penitentiary and reconciled.

Costello returned to a private life in New York after prison and died at his home in 1973. His wife Loretta was by his side. The couple had no children.

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