Died Springfield, MO, Dec. 19, 2005.
Gigante died Monday, Dec. 19, 2005, at the federal prison in Springfield, Mo. He was 77 years old. Born in 1928 to Vincent and Yolanda Gigante, Neapolitan residents of the Lower West Side of Manhattan, Gigante's "Chin" nickname was adapted from his given name of "Vincenzo." His father was employed as a jewelry engraver.
The family resided for many years along Thompson Street, within the traditional confines of Greenwich Village. Gigante likely met fellow Thompson Street resident and Genovese Crime Family member Venero "Benny Eggs" Mangano when the two were young men.
Gigante had a brief career as a prizefighter, beginning in 1946. His criminal career was considerably longer, spanning half a century. He became an underworld protege of New York Mafia bigshot Vito Genovese, who controlled Greenwich Village. Gigante first became known to the American public as the prime suspect in the May 1957 assassination attempt against Mafia leader Frank Costello. It is believed that Gigante, working under orders from Costello rival Genovese (orders reportedly transmitted through group leader Tommy Eboli) cornered Costello in the lobby of his apartment house and shot him in the head at close range.
The bullet only grazed Costello, however. Costello's refusal to testify against Gigante, a man Costello insisted was "a friend," led to Gigante's acquittal. Costello retired as boss of the Luciano family, leaving the operation to Genovese.
Gigante was convicted of drug trafficking in 1959 and was sentenced to five years in prison. His Mafia credentials were greatly enhanced by his prison term. After his release, Gigante served in leadership roles in the Genovese family. He established a base at the private Triangle Social Club (Triangle Civic Improvement Association). Genovese, himself, was in prison and controlled the family through acting bosses such as Gerardo Catena and Tommy Eboli.
Following the death of Genovese, Philip Lombardo gradually took over as boss, screening his activities behind a series of front men, including Frank "Funzi" Tieri and Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno. Lombardo eased into a Florida retirement by the early 1980s, and the Greenwich Village-based Gigante became boss. Under his leadership, the Genovese Family was a labor-racketeering power, particularly on the Hudson River docks, and established a regional underworld waste-hauling cartel, while retaining traditional interests in gambling and loan sharking. Venero Mangano served as underboss and filled in for Gigante during the summer of 1988 when Gigante was recovering from heart surgery.
Gigante preferred that Mafiosi avoid media attention. In the late 1980s, he was so offended by the publicity hungry Gambino Crime Family boss John Gotti that he reportedly called for Gotti's assassination.
Following the example of Lombardo, Gigante screened his leadership of the Mafia clan by having Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno (who died in 1992) pass himself off as the family boss. Gigante also did his best to portray himself as a helpless paranoid schizophrenic. He wandered the streets of Greenwich Village in his pajamas, robe and slippers, often conducted public conversations with himself and was once found hiding under an umbrella in his shower.
Prosecutors had great success against Salerno but could not score a conviction against Gigante until 1997 (his feigned mental illness delayed proceedings on that matter by seven years). By then, the boss's mental illness act had earned him a new nickname in the press: "the Oddfather."
Gigante was sentenced to a dozen years for racketeering in 1997. Additional charges were brought against him after that. With Gigante in prison, control of the crime family fell to Dominick "Quiet Dom" Cirillo of the Bronx.
The Triangle Social Club was abandoned, as Greenwich Village was no longer the heart of the Genovese Family. The storefront formerly occupied by the club became a tea and spice shop in 2011.
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