The murder of Carlo Tresca: Carmine Galante, Frank Garofalo and the Allied invasion of Sicily
In early 1943, a radical Italian-American publisher named Carlo Tresca was murdered in New York. Having left the Manhattan offices of his newspaper, Il Martello (“The Hammer”) for the day, Tresca was shot dead while crossing Fifth Avenue. Shortly before his death, Tresca had directed his editorials against former supporters of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime, who had began to back participation in World War Two only after the Japanese attacks at Pearl Harbour. These included Generoso Pope Sr, a prominent business owner in New York’s Italian-American community who had extensive interests in media, as well as his associate Frank Garofalo, reputed underboss of the Bonanno Mafia family.
Pope was for many years America’s leading spokesman for Mussolini and the Italian fascist regime. He was one of the outstanding opponents of the American anti-fascist Italians. It is only since America’s entry into the war that Pope suddenly became an advocate of democracy and an enemy of fascism. It is only in recent months that he took full-page advertisements in the metropolitan papers decrying anti-Semitism, racialism, and fascism.
The dispute is said to have begun when Tresca participated in a wartime event to rally New York’s Italian-American community to support America’s battle against fascism. Upon arrival, Tresca spotted Pope and Garofalo, publicly confronting them for their previous support of Mussolini. As the story goes, Tresca stormed off, having called Garofalo a gangster in front of the assembled guests.
Tresca openly denounced Garofalo at the banquet as a gangster and walked out. He was followed by Garofalo, who threatened to get Tresca for denouncing him in public. Garofalo was accompanied by an assistant attorney general, Dolores Faconti. When Tresca threatened to publish the whole history of Garofalo and Pope, this woman went to see him and begged him not to do it, warning Tresca that Garofalo would stop at nothing to prevent publication of the story.
In the immediate aftermath of Tresca’s murder, the police arrested Carmine Galante, a Bonanno soldier who would go on to lead the powerful crime family decades later. Within a day however, Galante had been released, with the case quickly going cold. A few months later, the United States conducted a series of landings in Sicily, with the intention of using the island as a launching pad for the liberation of Italy.
During the crucial early days of the operation, local Mafioso assisted the invaders as they swiftly took control, with the Americans appointing their new contacts in organised crime to powerful positions in local government. During the Cold War, this relationship would be maintained, taking the Sicilian Mafia deep into the heart of the Italian state.
Since its crystallisation around the start of the 20th century, the loose networks of local strongmen known as the Mafia had worked to defend the established order. In 1915, the first socialist Mayor of Corleone, Bernardino Verro, was murdered, part of a spate of violence against leftist organisers active in the relatively feudal Sicilian society. During the 1920s, the role of the Mafia in suppressing radicalism would decline somewhat with the rise of the Mussolini, whose embrace of state terror replaced the need for the kind of extralegal violence that they provided. The new fascist state, based in the more developed Northern sections of the country, even launched a well-publicised campaign against the gangsters, which was ended in 1929 with claims to have totally eradicated the syndicates.
In reality, the Mafioso had simply been forced to submit to the authority of the Italian state, instead of the local Sicilian powerbrokers. During the 1930s, some would easily integrate into the regime which claimed to have defeated them. These figures included Vito Genovese, who had fled the United States in the 1930s to escape a murder charge. Previously a powerful lieutenant of American kingpin Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Genovese worked closely with fascist officials, including Galeazzo Ciano, the husband of Mussolini’s oldest daughter. According to some accounts, Genovese had been involved in the decision to silence Tresca, as an apparent favour to Mussolini.
The reality might well be more complex however, given the impending invasion of Sicily by the Americans. If anything, having Tresca attack the hypocrisy of former fascists was a positive for Mussolini. Moreover, with his regime’s agents almost certainly watching Tresca, the radical’s editorials risked exposing the Sicilian Mafia’s role in the upcoming landings. Finally, given Tresca’s status as a fairly public figure, uninvolved in organised crime, his murder would not have been as freely commissioned as the usual targets of the Mafia, suggesting a level of state complicity.
Along with the Sicilian Mafia’s role in the 1943 landings, back in the United States, Lucky Luciano had struck a deal with the American government a year previously. Codenamed Operation Underworld, the agreement would see Luciano released from prison after the end of the war, in return for organised crime’s support during the conflict. At the time, the Mafia was a powerful force on New York’s vital waterfront, with the head of the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1814 (?) the half-brother of Albert Anastasia. Already, the racketeers had formed close relationships with employers, allied in common struggle against radical influences on the docks.
A few years before, Pete Panto, head of the Brooklyn Rank and File Committee, had disappeared after campaigning against the racketeers. His body was found in 1941 after Murder Inc member Abe Reles agreed to cooperate with police on an unrelated murder charge. The Panto case never went to trial however, because the prosecution’s key witness fell out of a window while supposedly under close supervision on the sixth floor of a New York hotel. The official story was that Reles had tried and failed to escape from the police officers protecting him from certain death at the hands of the Mafia. Whatever the real story, the case against Albert Anastasia was dismissed, further proving the power of organised crime in New York’s waterfront.
During World War Two, this power had won Lucky Luciano’s freedom, albeit on the condition of him being deportated to Italy. Upon his arrival, Luciano soon became an important link between the French Connection and the American Mafia. In 1957, he took part in a summit in Palermo, which brought together Sicilian kingpins such as Salvatore Greco, along with Joe Bonanno, Carmine Galante and Frank Garofalo, who had recently returned to live in Sicily. According to subsequent reports, the a key topic was the heroin trade, with the Bonanno family going on to make vast profits through their links to the French Connection. However, their rise caused conflict within the Mafia, and the family would go through turmoil in the 1960s that saw Joe Bonanno retire to Arizona, with Carmine Galante gunned down in New York in the 1980s after briefly taking power.
Generoso Pope Sr remained powerful in New York’s Italian-American community, playing a prominent role in attempting to influence the 1947 Italian election. Taking place in the early years of the Cold War, this was an important goal for the newly-established CIA, who are also believed to have used their contacts in the Sicilian Mafia to win the election for the Christian Democrats. A few years later, Generoso Pope Sr died. Afterwards his son, Generoso Pope Jr, took over the family business. At the time, Pope Jr, godson of Mafia boss Frank Costello, had been serving in the CIA’s psychological warfare wing, where he was likely involved in the 1947 election.
Returning to civilian life, Pope Jr carried on his father’s legacy, purchasing the New York Enquirer and rebranding it as the National Enquirer. Launched back in the 1920s by William Griffin, with financial support from William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper’s circulation had dropped after its editor was charged with sedition for his strident opposition to American involvement in World War Two. Under Pope Jr, the Enquirer changed to a tabloid format, becoming known for its graphic coverage of crime and celebrity scandal, carving out a niche for itself in New York’s print industry.
In 1988, Generoso Pope Jr died in Florida. His media holdings were assembled into American Media Inc, to be traded publicly. By the end of the 1990s, media executive David Pecker had taken control of AMI, with capital from investment bank Evercore. A close associate of fellow New Yorker Donald Trump, Pecker had previously overseen the publication of Trump Style, which was distributed at properties owned by the developer. During the 1980s, Trump had made a name for himself overseeing projects across Manhattan, with Trump Tower located on the same Fifth Avenue where Carlo Tresca had been gunned down. Allegedly, Trump had benefited from a close relationship with the Mafia, with him and his father listed as major contributors to New York’s political machines.
At the time, the Trump family lawyer was Roy Cohn, a controversial lawyer whose other clients included Carmine Galante. With Cohn’s help, they navigated the court system with ease. By the 1990s however, Cohn was dead, and Trump was declaring bankruptcy. Afterwards, unable to secure funding for major projects, he transitioned into the role of celebrity, helped along by Pecker and AMI, who supported his bid for President both in 2000, and 2016. After Trump made it into the White House the second time around, it emerged that the National Enquirer had purchased the rights to several negative stories about him, supposedly to publish them. Instead, Pecker sat on them, preventing them from coming to light during the campaign.
Carlo Tresca lived and died as a radical, opposed to fascism, gangsterism and Stalinism. Despite his role in several major strikes of the early 20th century, and his violent demise, he has become a largely forgotten character in the history of the American left. Because of this, there has been little investigation into the wider circumstances of his death, particularly whether he was killed with the complicity of the state. As with the role of organised crime in suppressing other radicals linked to the union movement, Tresca’s murder has not been afforded the attention it deserves by modern sources.