The Narcotics Racket

By The Other Guy | August 8, 2020

Intercepted in Northern Italy, a 4,626 lb. load of pure cocaine
Intercepted in Northern Italy, a 4,626 lb. load of pure cocaine

There has been much written about the narcotics trade through the years, and anything I say here is but a bleep in its vast and sordid history on the world stage.

Narcotics in all its various forms has seemingly been around forever. The narcotics trade across the world is an incalculable multi-zillion dollar underworld industry. NOTHING can match its allure and unbelievable quick profits. 

Unfortunately that allure has also brought a lot of misery to our populous the world over. A misery that few other substances or products have ever matched.

The variety of narcotics and other illegal substances available is almost breathtaking in its scope. 

Marijuana that is grown in the fields of Colombia, Mexico, Jamaica, Australia, the United States, and a variety of other countries and locales has been a staple since the beginning. The “training wheels’ 

Hashish grown in the fields and mountains of Nepal, Morocco, Turkey, and Iran to name but a few of its origin points.

Barbiturates (downers or goof balls) such as Phenobarbitals (Yellow Jackets), stimulants (uppers) such as Amphetamines (Black Beauties), synthetic narcotic pills (Oxycontin), or hallucinogens such as Acid or Mescaline which are manufactured in laboratories the world over.

These little capsules and pills have changed in popularity over time. But for every era there is always a “new” inventive substance to addict people. In the 1970s it was the Rorer-714 Quaaludes as a popular “downer”, “Black Beauties” as a powerful stimulant, and the well-known “Yellow Jackets”, etc. During the Hippie era the craze were the psychedelics such as “Acid.”

Today it is the synthetic narcotic pill OxyContin and all its various spinoffs. 

Heroin, Morphine and Opium grown across the world in such countries as Turkey, China, Thailand, Iran, Iraq, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina to name but a few. This narcotic drug of course has the most deadly of reputations…and for good reason.

Its addictive qualities have “captured” the souls of untold millions of unfortunates who have fallen victim to its deadly grip through the ages. 

Cocaine has also always been a highly sort after drug since at least the late 1800s. But since the early 1970s has seen a tremendous resurgence across the world. In the last fifty years it has arguably become the drug of choice.

Whether its the lower class drug user, the solidly middle-class blue and white-collar workers, or the so-called high class “beautiful people”, its false allure as a “safer” powder to casually enjoy has helped it to explode in popularity….and South America’s drug merchants and Cocaine kings have made sure to capitalize on it. 

A extra dangerous spin-off product from Cocaine has been “Crack,” which is a smokeable form of the drug and even more addictive than Cocaine itself…There is just no end to the diabolical minds of drug merchants. “Where there is a will there is a way”…and when there’s big money involved there is always a will!

There are a host of other illicit products that have been marketed for many decades. Collectively, whether they are natural or man-made substances, the drug business taken as a whole is a medley of varied and very profitable sub-industries that has become the scourge of mankind the world over!

And it knows no boundaries or ethnicities. Every country of the world has its drug problems. Every country has their own drug merchants and traffickers. And every country has a segment of its people who “indulge” in various drugs and narcotics. It will always be that way. That fact pretty much guarantees that there will also always be men willing to risk it all and traffic drugs to make the millions that potentially await them.

The United States is no different. In fact in some ways because we are a wealthy country our drug problem has been far worse because of a greater access to money in which to indulge peoples curiosities and habits. 

There is no end to people willing to engage in drug dealing because of the enormous profits involved. But Cosa Nostra, better known the world over as the Mafia has been at the forefront of certain types of narcotics trafficking for many decades.

Side Note: Although they generally go where the money is, Italian organized crime mostly traffics and deals in Heroin, Cocaine, and Marijuana. Occasionally you will come across “connected guys” who dabble in other drugs, but primarily the three I mentioned have traditionally been their bailiwick.

Among the first recognized major Mafia-connected narcotics rings operating in America was a massive multi-state heroin and opium smuggling ring nabbed in 1937 down in Texas and Louisiana with direct ties to their Mafia headquarters based in New York City. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (FBN), which was the precursor of todays Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), had been tracking the ring’s movements for several years.

In 1937, the FBN dispatched multiples teams of narcotics agents to execute a major sweep against dozens upon dozens of top narcotics importers and dealers, as well as several addicts in Galveston and Dallas, Texas, New Orleans, Louisiana, and many other cities across the nation including the west coast.

News of the 1937 nationwide bust!

Those arrested and indicted, 74 defendants in all, included the infamous Nicola Gentile who was a major Sicilian mafioso on both sides of the Atlantic, and a key operative of the Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Cleveland, and New York City D’Aquila (Anastasia) Families, as well as the San Francisco borgata. 

Others included Galveston mafioso and nightclub owner Sam Maceo, another Houston mafia soldier and nightclub owner named Vincent Vallone, Texas mafia capo Biagio Angelica, New Orleans soldier Onofrio (Nufio) Pecoraro, and New York City D’Aquila Family soldier Alfonso Attardi among many others. Most defendants in the case either pled out or were convicted after trial and served long prison sentences.

Side Note: It is interesting to note that both Nicola Gentile and Alfonso Attardi eventually became “confidential informants” after their narcotics arrests in this case. Attardi was one of the very first documented “made member” informants.

By the late 1940s several years after WWII, the Italian Mafia in Sicily and French Corsican gangsters started to collaborate for the importation of raw opium base from Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, and several other middle-eastern countries into Europe.

Texas mafioso - Vincent Vallone
Texas mafioso – Vincent Vallone

The French and Corsican underworld became the recognized experts in the conversion of this opium into the finest white powdered heroin known to mankind. They offered a purity that was rare to find. Because of the high quality of their product, the French/Corsican mob was soon able to corner the market. They were mainly headquartered in the cities of Marseilles and Paris, France. From there they coordinated multimillion-dollar heroin networks that saw their product exported across North America.

Their best customers being the Italian Mafia. The French and Italians are very similar in cultures and mindset to begin with…Corsicans, who are a blending of Italian and French blood who most often have Italianate surnames, are the closest thing to being 100% Italian/Sicilian themselves. For them, it was a match and a partnership made in Heaven by the angels. For law enforcement it was a match made in Hell by the devils!

From the early 1950s forward, untold thousands of kilograms of the purest heroin known to mankind was manufactured from pure opium gum base, packaged, and smuggled by air, ship, and shore, into the number one marketplace in the world, the United States of America.

Texas mafioso - Sam Maceo
Texas mafioso – Sam Maceo

This first early partnership would become the benchmark and “model”, setting the tone and format for the smooth continuing operation of an underground narcotics smuggling and importation system that would be duplicated thousands of times in the decades to come.

Many varied “sub-partnerships” and “combinations” were formed between the Sicilian Mafia as the initial contractors and buyers, the French-Corsican mob as the chemists and suppliers, and the American Cosa Nostra Families as the final destination of the product.

The Cotroni brothers based in Montreal, Canada, became one of the most important conduits between the players. Led by the Calabrian racketeer Vittorio (Vic the Egg) Cotroni and his two brothers Giuseppe (Pepe) and Frank, the Cotroni mob became the “brokers” and middlemen who were entrusted to coordinate much of this white powder for over three decades.

The infamous “French Connection” heroin ring bust of 1972, which was made famous through a book and movie of the same name, was in reality and fact only one branch of a massive multi-faceted network of international narcotics merchants who had been in operation for many decades before the monumental indictment took place, and have continued the heroin flow for many decades since that time.

Calabrian boss - Vittorio (Vic) Cotroni
Calabrian boss – Vittorio (Vic) Cotroni

The French Connection was a collaboration of the Corsican underworld and New York’s Mafia Families to import multiple shipments of heroin into the ports of New York City. It operated smoothly for years until their dismantling and indictment.

In subsequent years the successor organization was the “Sicilian Connection”. Which in essence was the “next generation” of the old French Connection, only this time the chemists and processing laboratories, as well as the international smugglers who ferried the heroin into the United States were of Sicilian origin. 

Years earlier the French has been the origin source of opium base which their chemists converted into heroin, negotiating its purchase and price from Turkish opium merchants.

They then sold to Italian nationals who were narcotics violators who either made arrangements to smuggle the contraband through American customs themselves for resale to American born narcotics violators, or in the alternative disposed of their product in Europe, leaving the problem of the smuggling logistics to American Cosa Nostra members who then collaborated with their “amici” to coordinate the trans-shipping. 

Giuseppe (Pepe) Cotroni
Giuseppe (Pepe) Cotroni

As the years passed, the Sicilians started to become the chemists themselves and made arrangements with Middle Eastern drug lords for direct purchases of raw opium for conversion.

Soon, throughout the hills of Sicily and Calabria in Southern Italy clandestine drug laboratories started popping up as the different Mafia clans established their own networks for the purchase, conversion, packaging and ultimate wholesale distribution of heroin. This has now gone on for decades. In the year 2020 it is still going on, although not at the pace it once did.

A perfect example of this process is to review what later become infamously known as “The Pizza Connection”.  This case was in essence the exposure of just one Mafia narcotics operation (although admittedly a huge network), led by Cinisi Family boss Gaetano (Tano) Badalamenti. He and his Cosa Nostra confederates developed a massive international heroin ring that operated in Italy, Germany, The United States, Argentina, as well as many other countries.

After smuggling the narcotics into the United States, they used pizza parlors and Italian restaurants sprinkled throughout the country as storage depots and distribution points to their mob associates and drug buyers. Authorities later stated that this network alone had smuggled over $1.6-Billion dollars in narcotics during its years in operation (approximately a decade).

Boss - Gaetano (Tano) Badalamenti
Boss – Gaetano (Tano) Badalamenti

Side Note: Although always an available product, Cocaine became all the rage again by the early 1970s. Over the next three decades, cocaine would surpass heroin as the most popular of narcotics. It became a widely used drug that knew no boundaries. Where heroin always had a bleak and deadly reputation. Cocaine had just the opposite.

It’s use by all social strata continues today as a largely harmless drug whose moderate use is safe. Hollywood stars, politicians, big business people, “The beautiful People”, and common folk alike have tried it. Unfortunately, any drug is not a good thing. And certainly, Cocaine is no different in that respect.

Drug cartels in Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Costa Rica, and a host of other South American countries are of course the “sources” of this white powder. As years have passed they have made connections to Italian Mafia groups and are now often times in partnerships with the Mafia for worldwide distribution. 

By the mid-1980s Tano Badalamenti and his associates had been rounded up and later jailed, receiving decades-long prison sentences. But in their place other Sicilian clans soon started operating throughout Palermo and its outer territories.

A good example of this would be the Gambino brothers network. Originally based out of the Palermo area, the three brothers; Giovanni, Giuseppe, and Rosario Gambino, immigrated to New York City where they joined the infamous Carlo Gambino Family of LCN (they were distant cousins of the boss himself).

In years to come, they would be exposed as the leaders of a massive Heroin smuggling network from Sicily to America. For over 30 years, from the 1960s through the 1980s they imported thousands of kilograms of the deadly powder into the United States.

After many repeated law enforcement assaults on both sides of the Atlantic, the Sicilian mafia found themselves on the ropes. Many of their smuggling networks had been busted up and dismantled.

But as only the mafia can, soon another Italian mafia-styled organization in the Southern Italian region of Calabria stepped up to fill the void created by the vacuum. Known as the N’drangheta, today the Calabrian mafia has become the major traffickers of both heroin and cocaine throughout the world. 

By either directly smuggling the heroin into America for later resale, or negotiating with both American and other Sicilian born traffickers on European soil, these drug networks oversee the smooth transfer of thousands of kilograms of both heroin and cocaine into many European countries and the United States.

This last scenario of leaving the logistics of actually smuggling the narcotics into the states brings less profit to Calabrian and Sicilian traffickers, but also much less risk as far as a loss of their financial investment and/or possible arrest. By negotiating the sale of the heroin or Cocaine shipment on European soil, it became the problem of the American buyer to figure out how to safely smuggle the drug shipment across the U.S. border into the states.

Depending upon the mafiosi involved and their nerve, abilities, and greed, it is often much safer to stay in the shadows and make less but be safe. 

Side Note: Many of the following methods described are still utilized today.

Some handled the powder from “cradle to grave.” In the old days they or their representatives would fly to France or Italy to make a multi-kilo deal at rock bottom prices. They would then utilize a variety of methods to try and smuggle the “junk load” back into the states.

They often employed the method of convincing an innocent older Italian couple or other immigrants to please transport a suitcase back to the United States that a “cousin” would retrieve from them once they arrived (a common practice in the old days). 

Side Note: Unbeknownst to the innocent couple the suitcase had a “false bottom” stuffed with several kilos of heroin inside.

Another favorite method was to bribe merchant seamen (many of whom were former mafia-connected criminals themselves) to secret a stash of heroin into the hull of the ship, or within their personal living quarters during a overseas trip from Le Harve’, France or another such European port into New York Harbor.

Once docked in a New York port the seaman (who have port credentials) was automatically and quickly cleared through “customs”. He simply walked down the gangplank and delivered the “package” to a predestined local address to get paid his envelope of cash for his services.

With the advent of air travel, the same scenario was proposed and often accepted by pilots and stewardesses alike. They simply carried several kilos of heroin or cocaine onto the plane in their carryon bag.

Once they landed at their destination, whether it be JFK International Airport, Newark International, Chicago’s O’Hare, or any number of airport terminals, they slung the bag over their shoulder and walked off the plane. With their automatic clearance, they were mostly above reproach from customs agents. These two schemes worked like a charm for many decades.

Of course, there was also the popular cross-border smuggling. From Canada down into New York’s border cities of Buffalo, Lake Champlain and other cities on the United States’ northern borders.  Or from Mexico up into Texas, Arizona, and California. By car, bus, truck, train, and later elaborate tunnels that were dug so as to ferry large shipments of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. Smugglers are nothing if not ingenious when it comes to making money…and this is big money indeed!

With Cuba, The Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and other such Island territories and countries so close to Florida, it was and is common for smugglers to run speed boats (called cigarettes), fishing boats, or personal luxury boats back and forth with shipments of drugs. Another often used method was to fly small personal aircraft into desolate makeshift landing strips or drop waterproof packages of drugs into the ocean for retrieval by watercraft. 

For every single load of drugs that may be intercepted by U.S. Customs Agents and the U.S. Coast Guard in these waters, or at the various airports and land border crossings, multiple loads make it safely through. 

Another major smuggling scheme has been to bury narcotic loads deep inside the huge commercial shipping containers arriving at Port Newark in New Jersey or other U.S. ports across the United States. The sheer volume of these steel containers arriving daily, as well as the wealth of varied legitimate products contained inside them prohibits customs agents and the FBI from successfully intercepting most narcotics shipments.

Coupled with the inferior laws the U.S. had on the books during this time, the 1940s through the 1950s saw an explosion of heroin smuggling and nationwide trafficking by many mafiosi belonging to Families throughout the nation. Some borgatas specialized in the trade and were knee-deep in it such as the Genovese, Bonanno and Lucchese Families of New York. But most Families if not all had at least some representation in the narcotics racket.  

Side Note: In the 1950s word was that the enticement was so great to get involved in the drug trade that one crew, the Chicago Family, actually went so far as to supplement any of their soldiers who had been known to previously sell narcotics with a $250 per week “salary”, with the admonition that death awaited them if they continued to traffic in Heroin.

It was said to have mostly worked because in future years there was a large reduction in narcotics arrests and convictions of “made” Chicago members.

For instance, the Profaci Family under founding boss Giuseppe (Joe) Profaci dissuaded his troops from active involvement in the heroin trade. But he still dabbled in it by authorizing a small contingent of his followers to traffic. In the late 1940s-early 1950s his boyhood friend from back in Villabate, Sicily, mafia boss Antonio (Nino) Cottone was suspected by the FBN as the source of Profaci’s drugs.

News story of Chris Rubino’s Murder
News story of Chris Rubino’s Murder

A notorious narcotics dealer and Profaci subordinate named Cristoforo (Chris) Rubino was eventually indicted on heroin smuggling and the wholesale distribution of the drug to local dealers with a drug network stretching out to California.

The informer Chris Rubino shot dead!
The informer Chris Rubino shot dead!

During the investigation, narcotics agents were able to intercept a large shipment of “oranges” from Sicily that in fact contained multiple “fake” wax oranges that had a hollowed-out center which had been stuffed with bags of heroin…there is no end to the creativity of narcotics smugglers.

Side Note; Rubino was later gunned downed on a Brooklyn street corner after he had been indicted for trafficking and the underworld suspected he had turned federal informant. 

In 1959, Family boss Vito (Don Vitone) Genovese was indicted in a massive multi-Family narcotics conspiracy along with top members of the Lucchese, Bonanno, and Gambino mobs.

Some of the top names in the case included top capos and bosses John (Big John) Ormento, Carmine (Lilo) Galante, Joseph (Joe Beck) Di Palermo, Salvatore (Tom Mix) Santoro, Natale (Joe Diamond) Evola, and soldiers Cosmo (Carlie) DePietro and Anthony (Tony) Mirra to name but a few. They and many other affiliated mafia soldiers and their top henchmen were charged with operating a nationwide heroin distribution ring for nearly ten years. 

Several interlocking related heroin conspiracy cases spun off of this indictment. Collectively dozens upon dozens of mafiosi from across the country were either indicted or exposed as narcotics smugglers and distributors over the course of five years or so.

Don Vitone Genovese
NYC boss Vito (Don Vitone) Genovese

Genovese and the others would all later be convicted, with Vito receiving 15 years in Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. He would die there as would several of his codefendants. But their jailing’s did little to dissuade others from future involvement in narcotics. There is just way too much money in the drug racket for it to be ignored.

With the intense and sustained law enforcement crackdowns on Cosa Nostra over the last few decades throughout Italy, the United States and Canada, the Mafia is not what it once was.

The gap that has been created by these arrests and probes has allowed other ethnicities and drug organizations to crop up and become firmly established in the narcotics trade. Colombians, Mexicans, Cubans, Blacks, Chinese, Middle Eastern nationals, motorcycle gangs, street gangs, and other independents have all joined the worldwide “business” known as drug dealing. 

Whether it is the actual manufacture, smuggling, wholesaling, right down to street distribution networks that sell $10 bags of Heroin, all have attempted to grab their piece of the pie so to speak. Because the narcotics trade is indeed so big and a worldwide enterprise, no one single entity or organization could ever harness it all…so there is enough room at the racket table for all to eat.

Bonanno underboss Carmine Galante
Bonanno underboss Carmine Galante

Italian organized crime in all its various forms has always been but a small part of this underworld narcotics mosaic. Still, Cosa Nostra, N’drangheta and the Camorra attract the most attention and subsequent news print. They always have and probably always will simply because the public the world over is captivated with this Italian phenomena. 

The Italian Mafia sells newspapers, books and tickets for gangster movies like no other underworld entity. People are addicted with its culture, customs, funny nicknames, the seeming ease by which they ply their trade and live their lives.

The fact that they can kiss their children at the dinner table over a plate of macaroni after having just garroted a rival or stool pigeon an hour earlier. Mafiosi are a unique composition like no other ever seen. They have been romanticized almost to the point that they can do no wrong. But as I say in truth they have always played only one role in a myriad of roles connected to the drug trade. 

And although they admittedly were once probably the single most pivotal player on the field, every single ethnicity plays a part. French, Turkish, Iranian, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Colombian, Mexican, Greek, Israeli, Russian, Argentinian, Canadian, etc., I could go on and on because there is no end to the major “players” deeply connected to this racket.

Drugs are big business! Because of it there will always be legions of men of all ethnicities willing to risk it all for the potential of the big profits it offers. Regardless of how dangerous it is, or how many years in prison a conviction for drug trafficking may bring.

Until next time, “The Other Guy”

This article was originally posted “here