Early Life & the American Dream
Joe Profaci was born Giuseppe Profaci, in Villabate, Sicily, on October 2, 1897, to Italian parents. Not much is known about his life back in Sicily, but it is rumored that he hailed from a lower-middle-class family.
He had begun indulging in petty crimes in childhood. During his teenage years, he got involved with the Sicilian mafia. He was arrested for theft in 1920. After spending a year in prison, in 1921, he decided to board a ship to the U.S.A., which was something a huge number of Italians did to lead better lives back then.
He initially settled in Chicago, and from the little money he had saved back in Sicily, he opened a small grocery shop. This was about a decade before the Great Depression hit America hard. However, most businesses back then, including his, fared poorly.
He tried reviving the business for a few years. However, in 1925, he decided to shut his business down and look for other business opportunities. He relocated to New York and ventured into the olive oil export/import business. It is believed, this was the time he began building his links with the Italian mafia bosses, a move that was necessary to run his business smoothly.
Soon, he began using his links with the mafia to make his business grow exponentially. Within a couple of years, he became the biggest olive oil exporter in the city and earned the nickname “the olive oil king.” He operated his business largely from Long Island.
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Foray into the World of Crime
After attaining success in the oil business, Joe started looking for more business opportunities. He had formed enough links to understand the workings of the New York mafia and thus decided to form his own gang. This decision was driven by his good relations with the mafia boss Vincent Mangano. He started his gang in 1927 and began building relationships with other mafia bosses in the city.
For the next few months, his influence kept increasing steadily, and this led the other mafia bosses to recognize his presence as a rising power. He was invited to the infamous mafia summit at the ‘Statler Hotel’ in Cleveland, on December 5, 1928. The meeting was attended by some of the most infamous mafia bosses of the time, such as Al Capone.
However, the local police raided the venue after being tipped off about the meeting. Joe and a few other gangsters were arrested for bootlegging. By then, he had established a huge business in New York, and he mostly dealt in bootlegging and extortion.
He was out on bail soon. In spite of his trouble, he was happy for being invited to the meeting, as that meant that he was finally being recognized as one of the top mafia bosses of the time.
By 1931, the Great Depression had engulfed the country. Joe milked the opportunity completely to establish businesses in narcotics, prostitution, loan sharking, and bootlegging. After the Castellammarese War that took place between the two major New York crime families of Joe "The Boss" Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano (in which Joe Profaci’s gang remained neutral), his crime faction was officially recognized as one of the “Five Families of New York.” He also earned a place in the ‘Commission’.
Joe was not like the other mafia bosses who thrived on instilling fear in the public and the legal system. Joe ran his illegal businesses alongside his legal businesses. His legal business endeavors saved him from being held for tax evasion, which apparently was the best way for the city prosecutors to expose the organized crime elements in the city.
He never left his olive oil business, and it remained his biggest legal source of income. The business was immensely successful, as the Second World War had increased the demand for oil to a great extent.
He ran around 20 legitimate businesses and employed hundreds of New Yorkers, which somehow earned him a fair bit of respect among the city people. Back then, recession was rampant and jobs were extremely difficult to come by. Thus, he came across as a savior to many people.
Joe also believed in keeping good relations with his competitors. He visited the leader of the Bonanno Family, Joseph Bonanno, regularly and strengthened the relationship after getting his niece married into the crime family. He also maintained friendly relations with Detroit’s Vito Tocco after marrying his daughter off to Vito’s son.
Joe ran his businesses comfortably for many years, but in the early 1950s, he got himself into legal trouble with the ‘IRS.’ The ‘U.S. Department of Justice’ moved court to revoke the citizenship of Joe. However, by 1960, all charges against him were dropped.
In 1959, he faced yet another issue when his stash of oranges imported from Italy was found to be carrying heroin. However, due to lack of concrete evidence against him, the charges against him were dropped.
He also embarked into a mafia war during the last few years of his life. In 1959, he ordered the murder of one of his associates, because he did not respect Joe enough. Joe also ordered to get his son murdered to avoid any future trouble. Joe Gallo, one of his gang members, refused to accept orders from Joe and began a gang war with the intention of taking over the family. However, Joe won the war after he got Gallo arrested on extortion charges.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Joe Profaci married Ninfa Magliocco in 1928 and had six children with her.
Joe passed away on June 6, 1962, after a prolonged battle with liver cancer. He was 64 years old at the time of his death.
Following his death, his brother-in-law, Magliocco, took over as the new head of the family. However, the ‘Mafia Commission’ intervened and made Joseph Colombo the new head of the family. Following this, the Profaci crime family came to be known as the Colombo crime family.