NEW YORK (AP) — The longtime boss of the infamous Colombo crime family, Carmine “the Snake” Persico, has died at the age of 85.
Persico died Thursday at the Duke University Medical Center. He had been serving what was effectively a life sentence at a federal prison in Butner, North Carolina.
Persico was among eight defendants convicted in a 1986 prosecution called the “Commission Trial” that was overseen by then U.S. Attorney Rudolph Giuliani. At the time, it was the biggest legal assault on the heads of the Mafia’s five families. Persico was convicted of racketeering and murder and sentenced to a century behind bars.
Persico was a high school dropout who was part of a local street gang. His first arrest was at age 17 in the fatal beating of another youth during a melee in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. When the charges were dropped, he was recruited to the world of organized crime, working in bookmaking and loan-sharking operations. By his mid-20s, Persico was a “made man” in the family headed by Joe Colombo and worked his
way up in the hierarchy.
Prosecutors said Persico took over the Colombo organization in 1973, two years after Colombo was shot and paralyzed.
The commission trial indictment said Persico and his fellow mobsters ran “La Cosa Nostra” in a racketeering pattern that included murders, loan-sharking, labor payoffs and extensive extortion in the concrete industry. Through he wasn’t charged in the murders, prosecutors said Persico was involved in the assassinations of two other mobsters, Albert Anastasia, the Murder Inc. leader who was killed in a barber’s chair in Manhattan in 1957, and Joseph Gallo, shot at Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy in 1972.
Persico acted as his own lawyer at the trial, using an aggressive style that often had prosecutors objecting, spectators laughing and the judge pounding his gavel for order, according to a 1986 AP account.
The mobster’s stint as a self-made legal expert was ultimately in vain.
At the sentencing, U.S. District Judge John F. Keenan suggested that Persico could have been a great man, if he’d chosen another calling.
“Mr. Persico, you’re a tragedy,” he said. “You are one of the most intelligent people I have ever seen.”