Carlos Marcello: Big Daddy In The Big Easy
Come Fly with Me
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
- Words and music by Eddie Lange and Louis Alter.
Carlos Marcello was not a stupid man. He may have given the impression by his appearance and speech pattern that he was nothing more than a Third World peasant, but you do not get to lead an organization like the Louisiana Mafia by being soft in the head. He was sharp, cunning, devious and very, very adroit in his dealings with people. A tireless worker, it was reputed that he was awake each morning at 4 am in order to check the newspaper real estate listings, in order to get onto a bargain before anyone else. But he had an Achilles heel. It was his citizenship, or lack of it. For whatever reason, Carlos had neglected to become an American citizen, unlike the rest of his family.
After his fractious encounter with the Kefauver Committee hearings, Carlos realised that the government might try and remove him from the scene through deportation proceedings and send him back to Sicily, or even worse, Tunisia. Consequently, in order to confuse the authorities, he arranged a fictitious Guatemalan birth certificate in 1953.
Carlos would have chosen Guatemala for a reason. Most of the fruit used by his company the Pelican Tomato Company came from this country, so he had well-established trading connections there. He was also actively involved at one time in the smuggling of weapons to the leftist government, which was isolated by embargoes imposed by the U.S. government. He had also imported marijuana from Guatemala for many years. He undoubtedly had contacts there at the highest levels. It was less than four hours by air from New Orleans.
He hired Carl Noll, a New Orleans criminal with contacts in that country, to arrange for his phony birth certificate. Noll flew to Guatemala and bribed a lawyer called Antonio Valladores and some of his associates to help find a 1910 birth registry with a gap in the entries. This was found in a village called San Jose Pinula and into this record book they wrote Marcello's birth name, Calogero Minacore, using specially antiquated ink. On the basis of this fraudulent registry, the Guatemalan government gave Marcello a passport.
In January 1961, Robert Kennedy took control of the Justice Department. His brother John was now President of the United States. Together they would change the world. One of the first things on the agenda of the new attorney general was a little fat man in New Orleans.
In his book The Enemy Within, Robert Kennedy wrote, "If we do not attack organized criminals with weapons and techniques as effective as their own, they will destroy us." Kennedy had never forgotten the way Marcello had treated him at the McClellan hearings. He decided to use unorthodox methods to strike back at the Mafia boss. Aware of Marcello's forged Guatemalan birth certificate in the name of Calogero Minacore, he decided to use this as a lever to deport Carlos.
On April 4, 1961, Carlos paid his a visit to the office of the Immigration Service in New Orleans. He was required to do this three times a month as a registered alien. Before he knew what was happening, he was in handcuffs, being conveyed by motorcade to Moisant International Airport. There, he was bundled onto an aircraft that took off and flew to Guatemala City, 1200 miles away. On May 5, Jack Wasserman, a lawyer who worked for Carlos, filed suit for his immediate return.
To say the least, the actions of Kennedy had been arguable. He had deported Carlos on the basis of a known forged birth certificate. He had rid the country of a man he considered not only dangerous but also disrespectful, but he had done it by dubious means. Marcello was deeply offended by his treatment. Years later he told a congressional committee, "They just snatched me...actually kidnapped me." He never forgave Kennedy and to his close friends swore vengeance against the man for the way he had been treated.
The next eight weeks would be some of the worst in Marcello's life. After his arrival in Guatemala, he was able to contact his wife and soon she, her daughter Florence, and son Joseph Jr. joined Carlos. They all moved into the Biltmore Hotel along with Carlos' lawyer Mike Maroun and two of Carlos' brothers, Sammy and Vincent. About a month after his arrival, the government informed Carlos that it had arranged for him to be returned to America. When the party arrived at the airport to embark for their trip back to the United States, Carlos was suddenly told that his visa had been denied. Instead, he and his lawyer were taken by secret service agents into the adjoining state of El Salvador and left at an army camp. Eventually they were taken into the capital, San Salvador, and handed over to the commander of a large military barracks. In due course, the commander informed the two men that they were to be taken to Honduras to a small, provincial airport where they would fly out from the country.
However, after about six hours travel on a small, decrepit bus, the two were simply dropped off in the middle of the jungle and left stranded there. After a journey that lasted almost three days, walking up and down mountains, and in an out of jungles, the two, middle aged, overweight men, dressed in clothes more suitable for urban manoeuvres than wilderness adventures, eventually staggered into a small airport and hired an aeroplane that flew them to the Honduras capital, Tegucigalpa. Battered, bruised, dirty and utterly exhausted, they checked into a hotel and slept for forty-eight hours.
Mike Maroun then flew back to New Orleans to reassure Marcello's family that Carlos was okay, and eventually Carlos landed back in America on May 28. Just how he returned is a mystery. Marcello claimed he obtained a visa and bought a ticket on a commercial flight to Miami, where he had no trouble passing through immigration and customs. However a government investigation indicated that he had in fact been flown into the country aboard a Dominican Republic aircraft. Their president, General Rafael Trujillo, had long-time connections to [Mafia] bosses in America, in particular Santo Trafficante Jr., Marcello's old time pal of the West Florida area. It was possible that somehow, someone in the pocket of Marcello, at the highest level, had pulled the necessary strings to help him back into America.
On June 3rd, Marcello voluntarily surrendered to Immigration officials in New Orleans and was ordered held at a detention center in Texas. By July 11, he had been released and was back at his office in The Town and Country Motel, but under threat of another deportation order filed against him by the INS. Carlos counterattacked and through his lawyer, Jack Wasserman, issued a lawsuit against the attorney general. In the case of Carlos Marcello v Robert F. Kennedy, Carlos accused his dreaded nemesis of fraudulent deportation based on illegal documentation.
Kennedy had Marcello called to testify before the reconstituted McClellan committee, but he avoided this on the basis of illness caused by his ordeal in Honduras. His brother Joe and Joe Poretto, one of Carlos' top men, were however summonsed to the hearing. Poretto in a show of arrogance and contempt, took the oath using a clenched right fist in the form of il corno, a Sicilian sign of defiance, making a horn by extending his right finger and little finger, while clenching his thumb and middle two fingers. Sneering at the committee, he continuously ignored all questions put to him, citing the Fifth. The hearings ended without establishing any direct evidence linking Carlos and his crime family into the spectre of illegal gambling and organized crime that the committee had been trying to establish.
Robert Kennedy came back on October 30, and publicly announced the indictment of Marcello on charges of falsifying his Guatemalan birth certificate, and perjury. On December 30th, the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld the deportation order. The clouds were gathering, the storm was not long in breaking.