Deceased mobster Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano died in
prison over three decades ago and may be forgotten by all but historians and people
deeply interested in organized crime. However, Provenzano, like many of the
more infamous 20th Century gangsters, played a small but colorful role
in American history, albeit an infamous one. Provenzano’s criminal career was
tightly woven into the fabric of Jimmy Hoffa’s corrupt Teamsters
Union; he even crossed paths with a disgraced former American President as
well. So, while he may be gone and
forgotten now, Anthony Provenzano had an outsized role as a Mafioso that is
worthy of reexamination.
Early Years in the Lower East Side
Anthony Provenzano was born to Sicilian Immigrants in 1917 in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. As a young man he was a gifted athlete and even considered a career as a professional boxer. However, Provenzano’s family struggled during the great Depression, and he quit school to drive a delivery truck for $10 a week. That job became Provenzano’s stepping stone into both the Teamsters Union and organized crime.
Provenzano rose rapidly through the ranks of the Teamsters, and in doing so, increased his ties with the Mafia’s Genovese Crime Family as well. In the mid-20th Century, The Mafia and the Teamsters had a marriage of convenience. The Teamsters needed the Mafia’s muscle behind them to resolve labor disputes, and the Mob appreciated the union’s deep pockets as well as the veneer of legitimacy it gave them. Anthony Provenzano became a shop steward at the trucking company where he first worked, and over the course of two decades became the President of the Teamsters Local 560 Union in Union City, New Jersey.
Riding High in the Teamsters
Provenzano proved to be a man who could get things done as a union leader. He was not afraid to use threats, intimidation, or even violence to resolve disputes or to spread the Teamsters’ influence. He quickly endeared himself to Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa. Hoffa, in return looked the other way as Provenzano and other mobsters used the union’s considerable funds as their own personal expense accounts.
Provenzano was also rising rapidly through the ranks of the Genovese family as well, who also approved of the former boxer’s ruthless efficiency. Provenzano tolerated no dissent in his organization. In 1961, angered over the maneuverings of Local 560’s secretary treasurer Anthony Castellito, ordered his underlings to carry out a hit. A group of Provenzano henchmen lured Castellito to a meeting and then killed him and disposed of the body; Castellito has never been found. While Provenzano’s role in this murder would not be exposed for over a decade, it helped cement his reputation as a tough Genovese Crime Family Capo.
Provenzano’s violent ways eventually did catch up to him, however. In 1963, he was convicted of extortion and sentenced to seven years in prison. His prison sentence in the Federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania overlapped with Hoffa’s. While in prison, the two disgraced union officials had a falling out. Tension between the two men increased when they both battled to return to the union after prison. However, despite the war between the two men, that did not stop Provenzano from associating with the man who pardoned his rival; in 1975, the Genovese Capo competed in a golf tournament with former President Richard Nixon at a union resort in California.[
Anthony Provenzano did eventually manage to exert control
over Teamsters Local 560 in Union City, and his family continued to control
that union for another decade. Many people also believe that Provenzano came
out on top in his feud with Jimmy Hoffa, too. When Hoffa went missing on July
15, 1975, the disgraced Teamsters President had thought he was heading to a
meeting in Detroit with Provenzano. While he was not in Detroit at the time,
gangsters over the years have alleged that Provenzano was nonetheless involved
in Hoffa’s disappearance, which has never been solved.
However, while Provenzano never took the fall for Hoffa’s disappearance, his involvement in the Castellito murder eventually caught up with him. After one of his associates became an FBI informant, details of the Genovese Capo’s role in the murder was revealed. Provenzano was convicted after a trial that saw FBI snipers positioned on rooftops to protect witnesses and was found guilty of murder on June 14, 1978. Earlier that year he had also been found guilty of a loan kickback case as well in a separate trial. He died of natural causes in 1978 in Lompoc District Hospital in California while serving the loan kickback sentence.
While Anthony Provenzano may not be as well-known as many other mid-20th Century gangsters, he played a key role as a nexus between unions and organized crime. He may also have been involved in the most infamous missing persons case in American history as well, though we many never know for sure. However, despite his infamy, Provenzano’s life ended the way many other American mobsters did as well: behind bars, being held accountable for a lifetime of criminal acts.
This article was originally posted “here“