Coppola, Michael (1900-1966)

Born Fisciano, Salerno, Italy, July 29, 1900.
Died Oct. 1, 1966.

"Trigger Mike" Coppola became a major figure in the New York Mafia upon the death of Joe Masseria in April of 1931. A highly regarded gunman to that point, Coppola was given control of many of the Bronx and East Harlem rackets formerly controlled by Ciro Terranova, who slipped into retirement.

Coppola entered the U.S. as a child. In 1918, he became a citizen upon his father's naturalization.[1]

As a young man in East Harlem, Coppola involved himself in hold-ups. In 1922, he reportedly was convicted of grand larceny and served a prison sentence at Sing Sing. Upon his release from prison in March 1925, he involved himself in gambling and bootlegging.[2] The gangster allies of his youth included Tommy Lucchese, Joseph Stracci and Joseph Rao. Coppola appears to have become a significant member of Charlie Luciano's inner circle, based in downtown Manhattan, later in the decade.[3]

Coppola is believed to have been involved in some way in the armed robbery of Magistrate Vitale's Bronx banquet in 1929 - a banquet attended by Terranova and a number of his underworld and political allies. That robbery and the subsequent recovery of all items taken exposed city government connections with the mob. Following the robbery, attendee John "Zacci" Savino was found to be in possession of a letter referring to Vitale and the holdup. The letter was signed "M.C."[4]

In spring 1930, Coppola was noted traveling from Cuba to Florida in the company of Luciano ally Meyer Lansky.[5] Authorities suspected Coppola in the late 1930s of involvement in the smuggling of narcotics into the United States.[6]

New York Police believed he had a role in setting up the November 1946 beating death of Republican political organizer Joseph Scottoriggio in East Harlem. Scottoriggio had been actively supporting Frederick Bryan against underworld-favored Congressman Vito Marcantonio. Coppola's old friend Joey Rao and later Coppola himself were taken into custody as a material witness following the killing. Early in 1947, authorities sought Coppola's wife Doris and her father David L. Lehmann, believing they knew something about the Scottoriggio killing. By summer, Doris was located and brought before a grand jury.[7] Early the next year, Doris, then twenty-seven, died during childbirth at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York.[8] Some insist that Michael Coppola arranged her death in order to eliminate a witness to the Scottoriggio slaying.

Coppola's rackets included a monopoly on coin-operating vending and gaming machines. He was also involved in numbers gambling, sports bookmaking, loansharking, labor racketeering and perhaps narcotics. His territory included areas in Brooklyn, Bronx, and Manhattan, as well as Miami Beach, Florida. Miami Beach became his home around 1950.[9] Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno oversaw some operations for Coppola.[10]

An odd gangland connection was uncovered in February 1955. Authorities investigating Buffalo Mafioso Joseph DiCarlo learned that DiCarlo had recently hosted a wedding reception for his daughter said to have cost $35,000. DiCarlo had avoided paying a Prohibition Era government fine by pleading poverty, and investigators believed the wedding proved DiCarlo was lying. It was discovered, however, that the bills for the lavish wedding reception had been sent not to DiCarlo but to Michael Coppola.[11]

In the early 1960s, Coppola was indicted for evading income taxes during the years 1956-59. According to prosecutors, he owed a total of $385,494 in addition to penalties of up to $40,000. While there were no financial records of Coppola's dealings, the IRS calculated his taxes by approximating his net worth. In 1962, Coppola was sentenced to a year in prison, four years' probation and a $40,000 fine. He served nine months of his prison term and was released in late November.[12] By 1964, the government claimed that Coppola's tax debt had risen to almost a million dollars. A settlement of $400,000 was reached in May of 1964.

In 1963, informant Joseph Valachi identified Coppola as a leading figure in the U.S. Mafia.


  1.  Coppola's date of birth is not entirely certain. Doerner, Fred W. Jr., "Crime conditions in the Miami Division," FBI report, file no. , NARA record no. 124-10208-10000, Nov. 15, 1963, p. 55; Walsh, Edward T. Jr., "Paul Joseph Correale," FBI report, file no. 92-4264-9, NARA record no. 124-90066-10151, Sept. 26, 1960, p. 13.
  2.  FBI interview with Coppola, Jan. 14, 1939.
  3.  Doerner, Fred W. Jr., p. 55; FBI interview with Coppola, Jan. 14, 1939.
  4.  "Vitale guests granted writ; hit '3d degree,'" Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 31, 1929, p. 1.
  5.  Passenger manifest of S.S. Gov. Cobb, departed Havana, Cuba, on April 2, 1930, arrived Key West, Florida, April 2, 1930.
  6.  Walsh, Edward T. Jr., p. 13.
  7.  "Mrs. Coppola still gone," New York Times, Jan. 14, 1947, p. 27; "Beaten party aide visited by Dewey," New York Times, Nov. 7, 1946, p. 15; "Election captain dies of beating; Dewey and police pledge capture," New York Times, Nov. 12, 1946, p. 1; "Scottoriggio death still is unsolved," New York Times, Nov. 13, 1946, p. 1; "Mrs. Coppola held in election killing," New York Times, July 16, 1947, p. 1; Turkus, Burton B., and Sid Feder, Murder, Inc.: The Story of the Syndicate, reprint of 1951 edition, New York: Da Capo Press, 1992, p. 129.
  8.  "Mrs. Coppola dies after baby is born," New York Times, March 19, 1948, p. 48; New York City Death Index, certificate no. 6862, March 18, 1948; "5,000 at Coppola rites," New York Times, March 23, 1948, p. 27.
  9.  Doerner, Fred W. Jr., p. 55.
  10.  Walsh, Edward T. Jr., p. 13, 15; SAC Miami, "Miami winter season 1958-1959," FBI memorandum to Director, File no. 62-75147-29-742, NARA record no. 124-90110-10015, p. 7.
  11.  "Some of DiCarlo party bills reported going to 'Trigger,'" Buffalo Courier Express, Feb. 17, 1955.
  12.  Doerner, Fred W. Jr., p. 55.