The Lucchese Family
A Revolving Door
In 1993, Vic Amuso, still the boss of the Lucchese family, made his wishes known from behind prison walls. His choice to lead the family as acting boss in his absence was his handball partner from his old Queens neighborhood, Joseph "Little Joe" Defede. After years of turmoil and internal strife, the Lucchese Family seemed to be on an even keel. But then Amuso started checking the books. He found that the family rackets weren't making as much money as they had been, and he suggested that Defede might be skimming off the top of the family's garment district rackets.
In his article "A Lousy Legacy," Jerry Capeci quotes an unnamed source as saying that Defede, who was never known for being a "tough guy," feared that Amuso would have him "whacked" for stealing from the family. After serving nearly five years as acting boss, he turned himself in to the FBI and pleaded guilty to extorting a small fortune from businesses in the garment district. For "Little Joe," who had started his criminal career running a numbers operation out of a hot-dog truck in Brooklyn, it was an easy choice: better to be alive in prison than dead in the street. While lying in a prison hospital bed in Lexington, Kentucky, Defede took a hard look at his life and decided that there was nothing left for him in the mob. He decided to follow "Little Al" D'Arco's lead and turn government witness.
Next up in the top slot was underboss Steven Crea, but his term as acting boss didn't last long. He was soon convicted on state racketeering charges involving the construction industry and sent to prison.
Crea's successor met a similar fate. In September 2004, the Lucchese Family's next acting boss, Louis "Louie Crossbay" Daidone, was convicted in federal court on loansharking and murder charges. "Little Al" D'Arco, testifying for the prosecution, claimed that when he had been acting boss of the Lucchese Family, he had ordered Daidone to kill a man he feared would turn government witness. He said he told Daidone to stuff a canary in the corpse's mouth as a warning to any others who might be thinking about spilling their guts to the government. With the aid of a magnifying glass, jurors were able to spot the canary in the victim's mouth in crime scene photographs, and, as a result, voted to convict Daidone.
It should be noted that the Lucchese Family has inspired some of the most notable mob characters on film and television. The Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas is based on Nicholas Pileggi's nonfiction book Wiseguy, which follows the life and crimes of Lucchese associate Henry Hill. In that movie, actor Paul Sorvino plays "Paul Cicero," a character modeled on the real-life Lucchese capo Paul Vario. Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta) and Jimmy "the Gent" Burke (played by Robert DiNiro) were both associates in Vario's crew.
Prosecutors and investigators from New Jersey believe that Michael Taccetta, street boss for the Garden State faction of the Lucchese Family, is the likely inspiration for "Tony Soprano" (played by James Gandolfini), the main character of HBO's The Sopranos. They also cite close similarities between Lucchese hitman Tommy Ricciardi and Tony Soprano's consigliere "Silvio Dante" (played by Steven Van Zandt). Both Taccetta and Ricciardi were on Vic Amuso's hit list when he decreed that the Jersey faction of the Lucchese Family should be made extinct.