Joseph Paterra – “The Swede of Harlem”

By The Other Guy | April 13, 2020


Joseph (Joe Swede) Paterra – aka “Joe Sweets” – was born in 1906 in Northern Italy before immigrating to New York City. He was raised at 329 East 112th Street in the Italian stronghold of East Harlem and was naturalized in 1917. He may have lived in Trenton, New Jersey for a time.

In 1967, he was named during House Congressional Hearings on organized crime that he was then one of eighteen high-ranking Genovese Family members who were residing as full-time residents of South Florida by at least 1965.


FBI # 541984, NYCPD # B-99522


“Joe Swede” was said to have served in the East Harlem regime of Michael (Trigger Mike) Coppola, a notorious gunman and mafiosi, who later migrated down to South Florida by the mid-1940s.

Membership of Mike Coppola Regime (Click to enlarge)

He was officially identified in 1963 by mafia soldier turned informer Joseph Valachi during the famed McClellan Committee.

He was one of 25 “button men” listed as being in the “Coppola Regime”. Paterra was described as being actively engaged in gambling and shylocking rackets, which he operated primarily in the Harlem/Bronx sections of New York City.

He had a police record since 1932 which included charges of:

1932 – felonious assault

1932 – assault (2nd degree)

1932 – vehicular homicide

1933 – assault and robbery

1933 – injury to property (Welfare Island/indeterminate jail term)

1933 – malicious mischief (1-2 years in state prison)

1940 – disorderly conduct….after 1940, he seems to have kept off the police radar.


Early in his underworld career, Paterra was said to have worked for the notorious Bronx beer baron and gang boss Dutch Schultz. After Schultz’s murder at The Palace Chop House in New Jersey, Paterra later struck out on his own.

He was early partners with another East Harlem alumni, a notorious gunman by the name of “Tough Joey” Rao.

1932 – conviction ( Click to enlarge)

Valachi named Paterra as one of several gunman from a rival Harlem gang that set up and attempted to kill John (Johnny D) DeBellis, Peter (Petey Muggins) Mione and Stephen (Buck Jones) Casertano in 1931.

They opened fire on the trio but missed their mark.

In 1933 – Paterra was arrested with five other Luciano soldiers on malicious mischief charges for terrorizing pollers and election office board members. They were accused of smashing windows, tearing down the campaign posters of Fiorello LaGuardia and McKee, who are running for election to city government.

Paterra’s codefendants included Frank Montana, Daniel (Danny Hogans) Scarglatta, Arthur Delucci, and Carmine Perulo. All were identified as well-known Harlem gangsters.

Paterra did a three-year jail term in the penitentiary after being convicted of malicious mischief. While still inside serving that sentence in 1935, he was again indicted. This time for a vicious assault on patrolman Edward E. Smith on the sidewalk in front of 113 East 116th Street, in January 4, 1932.

He and notorious East Harlem hoodlum power Joey Rao were each sentenced to one to two years in jail on Welfare Island for the beating of the policeman, who attempted to arrest them after witnessing them in the beating and shakedown of a Bronx dance hall owner named Frank Perisco back in 1932.

They remained free on appeal until 1936. After losing the appeal they surrendered to start their jail sentences in Upstate Sing Sing Prison.

Side Note: While at Sing Sing on previous jail bids, and this time around also, Joseph (Tough Joey) Rao was considered the “Czar” of the prison. He was treated like royalty by both the inmates and the prison guards. It was said that even the warden treated him with courtesy and deferred to him on occasion. As his close aide and lieutenant, Joseph Paterra was also said to carry weight throughout the penitentiary.

Side Note: Rao’s defense lawyer at the time was George Morton Levy, a wealthy investor, who would gain fame years later as a primary owner and stockholder of Roosevelt Raceway in Carle Place Long Island.

• Michael (Trigger Mike) Coppola

• Frank (Cheech) Livorsi

• Alexander (Al Ross) Rosato

• Joseph (Joe Stutz) Tortorici

• Joseph (Joe Stretch) Stracci

• Angelo (Charlie Four Cents) Salerno

• Pasquale (Little Paddy) Erra

• Michael Erra

• Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno

• Daniel (Danny Hogans) Scarglatta

• Alfred (Sharkey) Cupola

Vincent Rao

• Ettore (Little Eddie) Coco

….and most original members in the Harlem regimes of the Five Families.


By the early 1960’s no more is heard from Paterra. He seems to have either retired or backed up from high profile rackets.

He was living in Florida and aside from being named by Valachi, which raised his profile again publicly, he faded from view.

It was reported that Joseph (Joe Swede) Paterra died in 1974.


Back to The Genovese Family

The Gambino Family

The Bonanno Family

The Colombo Family

The Lucchese Family

The DeCavalcante Family

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