Having served a stint in prison for attempted robbery in the late 1930s, Galante transitioned from strong-arm work for Vito Genovese to establishing his power base in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — Bonanno family territory. He shared a couple common enemies with Joe Bonanno, the most prolific being Carlo Gambino, and eventually rose to rank of underboss in the Bonanno family. While known as a cold-blooded killer — the NYPD suspected him of numerous mob-related murders — authorities could never find anyone to testify against the feared mobster.
“[Galante’s] foray into the drug world really got kicked into high gear in the ’50s,” says Christian Cipollini, author of Murder Inc.: Mysteries of the Mob’s Most Deadly Hit Squad. Galante traveled to Canada and Sicily to oversee narcotics trafficking, “and it wasn’t long before he gained recognition by law enforcement as a major player in drug trafficking.” The feds busted Galante, sending him to prison in 1962 for 20 years. Finally paroled in the early 1970s, Galante set out to regain his control of the dope business. The problem? His fellow mobsters didn’t like it.
That fateful afternoon, Galante, 69, was having lunch with a friend and bodyguard Leonard Coppola, 40, and Turano’s father, Giuseppe, 48 — also a Bonanno associate. Smoking a cigar and enjoying the conversation, Galante certainly didn’t expect what happened next. John remembers three masked men walking into the restaurant. One pointed a gun at him, telling him not to move. But before the shooters reached the courtyard, the son shouted a warning to his father. The gunman turned and fired, wounding the young Turano before joining his cohorts in the courtyard, where they unleashed a barrage of bullets.
“They blew Lilo away while he was eating lunch, in broad daylight,” says Mafia historian Ed Scarpo, author of Cosa Nostra News: The Cicale Files, Volume 1: Inside the Last Great Mafia Empire. John hid throughout the onslaught, and after the gunmen and bodyguards fled, he found the bodies. Galante had been blown off his chair and flung into the tomato patch behind him — a cigar in his mouth and a Zippo lighter in his hand. Coppola also was killed, and Turano was mortally wounded, dying later in the hospital.
Galante had reckoned he was untouchable as a former underboss to Joe Bonanno, and as a man who’d held to the code of omertà doing his jail time, he felt he deserved to get back what he lost. Assuming a leadership role without permission was one thing, but Galante had also started killing off his rivals in the Gambino family to take over the drug trade — and that was a step too far.
“His apparent desire to basically reap all the rewards of the New York Mafia’s lucrative drug trade — by cutting out most of the other mafiosi from the profits — became Galante’s ultimate downfall,” says Cipollini. Someone at Galante’s level in the mob hierarchy doesn’t usually get assassinated without a lot of other important peers giving the OK. But Bonanno family crime boss “Joseph Massino wanted him out of the way,” Scarpo explains.
Galante paid the ultimate price for “hubris and greed,” says Scott Burnstein, author of Motor City Mafia: A Century of Organized Crime in Detroit. “He came out of prison and went against typical mob protocol by declaring himself boss without the universal approval of [the Bonanno] crime family.” To further complicate things, Galante isolated himself from his troops by creating his own handpicked inner circle of young native Sicilians to do his drug trafficking and strong-arm work. The irony? It was those very Sicilians — his bodyguards — who sold him out. Those armed bodyguards at his side weren’t killed that day because they had, in fact, betrayed Galante.
Galante’s rackets and drug dealings were taken over by Massino and the others who had plotted to take him down. Anthony “Bruno” Indelicato, a Bonanno soldier, was convicted of the murder in 1986 at the famous Mafia Commission trial and sentenced to 40 years.
Since then, the picture of Galante’s last meal has become an iconic image, representing what can happen when an ambitious mobster makes a power grab. While certainly not the first mobster to dabble with drugs, says Burnstein, “he was one of the first to do it so brazenly and unapologetically.” Rather than let him consolidate as a drug kingpin, the Bonnanos decided Galante had overstepped and that he had to pay the ultimate price.
Thanks to Seth Ferranti.