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 A Night for Colombo

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little vic

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PostSubject: A Night for Colombo   Wed Apr 08, 2009 8:42 am

A Night for Colombo
Monday, Apr. 05, 1971Print
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The $125-a-plate testimonial dinner on Long Island last week began with an invocation by Father Louis Gigante, a Bronx priest who ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year: "Dear God, bless this food, bless this night, and God bless Joe Colombo and all the good deeds he has done."

As the evening wore on, Joe's deeds were extolled by the master of ceremonies, dais guests, and men and women seated at the nearly 100 tables scattered across the auditorium. A retired barber from Coney Island: "All Italians look up to him. He's a wonderful father—he always tells his son Anthony to make sure his coat is buttoned whenever he goes outside." Natale Marcone, president of the Italian-American Civil Rights League, which sponsored the black-tie affair: "Women in the neighborhood kiss his hand when he passes. He gives them his umbrella in the rain. Just the way he shakes your hand you know he's a great man."

Joe, of course, is Joseph Colombo Sr., guest of honor, league founder and, law enforcement officials insist, the head of one of New York's Mafia families. His testimonial had been moved up two days because on the original date Colombo had been scheduled to begin serving a prison sentence for perjury.


Thirteen hundred people were on hand to pay homage, as the engraved invitation explained, to Colombo's "undying devotion to the Italian-American people and all humanitarian causes."

Questions about his underworld life were dismissed by Westchester County Elementary Schoolteacher Dick Capazzola, one of the diners. Said Capazzola: "If Joe's guilty of all they say, they ought to make him Secretary of State at least, because he's too smart for them to prove anything."

Curbing Slurs. When it was finally Colombo's turn at the microphone, he observed: "The Attorney General hates our guts. I think the President is behind it. I want to make the league the greatest organization in the country, the greatest organization in the world, so that people will be proud of us no matter what we do, where we are, even if we are in prison."

It is with such appeals to ethnic pride, aided by legitimate grievances over discrimination against Italian-Americans, that Joseph Colombo has attracted supporters, opening chapters in New York, Las Vegas and Miami. Most joined the league for its efforts to curb ethnic slurs and stereotypes, and would be appalled at any use of it by the underworld. But the league, inadvertently or not, has benefited the Mafia—serving as a public relations smokescreen for mob activities. Colombo's leadership of the league has made him the most outspoken reputed Mafia leader in the history of organized crime as well as a straight-faced anti-defamation champion to many New Yorkers of Italian extraction.



Until last summer, Colombo was virtually unknown except to law-enforcement agencies and readers of crime stories. The son of Anthony Colombo, a gangster who was strangled with a girl friend du ing the '30s mob wars, Colombo served in the Army during World War II. After a dishonorable discharge, he became a minor figure along New York's waterfront. He was arrested at least 12 times during this period and had three convictions on gambling charges. In 1964, authorities allege, Colombo ascended to leadership of Joseph Profaci's Mafia family in Brooklyn after the "Banana War" power struggle between the Profaci family and the Joseph ("Joe Bananas") Bonanno family. In 1966, Colombo served 30 days for contempt after he refused to answer questions put to him by a grand jury. In addition to his perjury for lying to a state agency in applying for a real estate license, Colombo also faces a trial on charges of income tax evasion.-

No Spicy Meatballs. Colombo launched his publicity campaign last April after his son Joseph Jr. was arrested on charges of melting coins for resale as silver ingots. The night of his son's arrest, Colombo and some 30 others picketed FBI headquarters in Manhattan, protesting harassment of Italian Americans in general and members of the Colombo family in particular.

Young Colombo was acquitted after the chief Government witness changed his testimony. The picketing continued into June, and the Italian-American Civil Rights League was formed. On June 29, a massive Italian-American Unity Day Rally brought thousands to Columbus Circle in Manhattan, including virtually every politician in the city. The next month, Attorney General John Mitchell announced that "Mafia" and "Cosa Nostra" were no longer to be used in Justice Department and FBI reports and releases; a similar edict from Governor Nelson Rockefeller affected New York State releases.

The league goes marching on, and just about everyone in sight seems ready to capitulate. Last week Al Ruddy, producer of The Godfather, a film based on the bestseller about the head of a Mafia family, which is currently being shot on location in New York, attended a press conference at league headquarters to announce that "Mafia" and "Cosa Nostra" would not be part of the dialogue because they made "no difference in the art'stic meaning of the film." Then the league released a letter from Ford Motor Co. President Lee lacocca promising that the television series The FBI, which Ford sponsors, would avoid those terms in next season's episodes. Swift & Co. also agreed to change a TV advertisement that featured an Italian delicatessen owner, and Alka-Seltzer promised to discontinue its prizewinning commercial "Spicy Meatballs."


:: New York Assistant District Attorney John Fine alleges that although Colombo reports earning an annual salary of $7,000 to $23,000 from his Brooklyn real estate firm, his spending habits cost between $80,000 and $100,000 each year. At the dinner, a sympathetic guest commented on Mrs. Colombo's wardrobe: "Poor Jojo. She's not allowed to buy any clothes. Because they always check his income tax, she has to go around in rags."
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