Joe Profaci owed his success to a network of so-called “cousins” from the old country.
Giuseppe Profaci was one of the original bosses on Luciano’s Commission: the founder of what is now called the Colombo crime family. He was born into a mobile and Mafia-affiliated family in Villabate, Sicily, in 1897. Despite his relative privilege—the combination of wealth and Mafia ties should have shielded him from indictment, much less prison—he was already a felon by the time he emigrated, just before his 24th birthday.
Giuseppe was born in Villabate, in the province of Palermo, Sicily on 2 October 1897, to Salvatore Proface (the name is spelled both ways) and Rosalia Schillaci. His father was a successful carter-turned-merchant, launching the family into professional social circles in Villabate and in the towns where Salvatore did business. He introduced his son to people in several villages in Palermo and Agrigento who would support him in his career, decades later in the United States.
In 1921, on his first trip to the US, Giuseppe named a cousin, Calogero Profaci on Elizabeth Street, in New York City’s Little Italy, as his destination contact. On his second trip, in 1925, he met another cousin, Giuseppe Provenzano, in Chicago’s Little Sicily. A common name, but Provenzano filed naturalization papers from the same address on Cambridge Avenue where Profaci met him, confirming his identity. They are unlikely to be close kin, because Provenzano, his parents, and grandparents were all from Burgio, in the province of Agrigento, while Profaci, his parents, and grandparents lived in Villabate, and there are no common surnames among their ancestors.
In Brooklyn, following his second trip to the US, Profaci became associated with a distant relative from Villabate, Joseph Magliocco, who became his underboss and brother-in-law. (How distant? They are not second cousins or closer. They may be quote-unquote “cousins.”) Magliocco is widely reported to be from Misilmeri, but according to the family’s migration records, he and his siblings were born and raised in Villabate, where his mother is from. Profaci married Magliocco’s sister, Ninfa (also called “Nina”), in 1928 at Our Lady of Peace Church in Brooklyn. The witnesses to the wedding were both people of interest.
One was Michele “Mike” Di Pisa, a Detroit gangster from Misilmeri who was killed by police two months after the wedding. His brother Leonardo died in 1926, shot to death in a hotel Mike owned. Their sister, Grazia Di Pisa, was married in Chicago in 1923 to Giuseppe Provenzano: Profaci’s so-called cousin.
The other witness to Joe Profaci and Ninfa Magliocco’s wedding was Margaret Italiano. She is the daughter of Ignazio Italiano, the Tampa grocer who bought Profaci’s olive oil, and was reputedly a friend of Joe and his father, back in Sicily. Italiano was a farm laborer in his native Santo Stefano Quisquina, fifty miles inland from Villabate. Before he moved to Florida, the Italiano family lived in New York, where one of their children, Stefano, was born around 1899. In Tampa, Ignazio employed several family members in the restaurant business. Before Prohibition, he was a liquor distributor and owned a saloon with his son, Stefano. In 1922, Stefano reported his profession as “bartender” when he requested a passport from the embassy in Veracruz, Mexico, where he was visiting relatives. This record points to the possibility that some of the Italiano family survived Prohibition by moving the family business south to Mexico.
Ignazio Italiano and members of his family appear in the 1930 census, living in Tampa. His daughter, Margaret, who married in 1928, appears twice: with two of her brothers who each claim to be hosting Margaret and her husband. One told the enumerator that he was in the produce business with his brother-in-law. Margaret Italiano was married to Vincent Mangano: the New York City native who traveled from Italy with his father and Joe Profaci in 1921.
Profaci is unusual among the mafiosi I’ve studied in that he has such far-flung friends in both the US and Sicily: the Manganos of Palermo, the Di Pisas of Misilmeri, the Italianos of Santo Stefano, and the Provenzanos from Burgio, not to mention his in-laws, the Maglioccos, who like Profaci were from Villabate (and had lived in Misilmeri), and his Profaci cousins in Little Italy. His social network connected “The Olive Oil King” to Tampa, Detroit, Chicago, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. They may have all been bound to one another by the secret fraternity in Sicily.
Profaci’s sleight of hand in calling Giuseppe Provenzano—his destination contact in Chicago—his “cousin,” is a sign among Mafia members. They refer to one another using kinship terms like “uncle” and “cousin,” even on a ship manifest or a prison’s visitor log. Profaci’s chain of migration is made up of such fictive kinship. When Provenzano emigrated to Chicago, he went to his “cousin,” Leonardo Ambrogio, who was from Sambuca Zabut (called Sambuca di Sicilia since 1928), fourteen miles from Burgio, where the Ambrogio family were millers and bakers. Ambrogio’s wife was from Burgio, but Provenzano was not her cousin, either.
Profaci married in a momentous year for the Mafia and his criminal career. “Boss of bosses” Salvatore D’Aquila was killed in October 1928. A meeting at the Statler Hotel in Cleveland, two months later, was interrupted by a police raid. The meeting may have been called in part to deal with the consequences of D’Aquila’s death. One was the formation of Joseph Profaci’s crime family, with his brother-in-law, Joseph Magliocco, as his underboss, and some of the crew formerly led by Frankie Yale, who was killed in July.
Profaci and his wife, Nina, lived in the Bath Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn through the 1930-40s. Joe started the Mama Mia Importing company, and the Sunshine Shortening Company, a business his sons inherited. His daughters married the sons of Detroit gangsters. Rosalie married Anthony Zerilli, son of Joseph Zerilli, and Carmella married Anthony J. Tocco, son of “Black Bill” Tocco. Joe Profaci’s niece, Rosalie, daughter of his brother, Salvatore L. Profaci, married Salvatore “Bill” Bonanno, the son of Joseph Bonanno. Profaci’s crime family and the Bonanno Family had common business interests. They also had close ties with the Gambino Family, and the Magaddino Family in Buffalo. Profaci and Magliocco were among the dozens arrested at the 1957 conference at Joseph Barbara’s home. A couple years after the Apalachin meeting, Profaci was heard on the phone discussing a shipment of heroin hidden in wax fruit.
Joseph Profaci died on 6 June 1962 from cancer. Magliocco succeeded him but died only a year later. The crime family is still known today by the name of Magliocco’s successor, Joseph Colombo.
Atto di nascita, Giuseppe Proface. (1897, October 3). Record no. 133. “Italia, Palermo, Palermo, Stato Civile (Tribunale), 1866-1910,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L971-H9QB-C?cc=2051639&wc=MCT9-92S%3A351055601%2C353776201%2C353786501 : 22 May 2014), Palermo > Villabate > Nati, pubblicazioni, matrimoni, cittadinanze, morti 1879, 1886, 1890-1895, 1897 > image 1188 of 1209; Tribunale di Cagliari (Cagliari Court, Cagliari).
Atto di nascita, Ninfa Magliocco. (1904, March 22). Villabate, Registro 5, Record no. 44. Archivio di Stato di Palermo. https://www.antenati.san.beniculturali.it/ark:/12657/an_ua36080864/Lz3XR3g Images 31-32
Certificate and record of marriage, Giuseppe Profaci and Ninfa Magliocco. (1928, April 29). Certificate no. 5145. Brooklyn. New York City Municipal Archives. NYC Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS). https://a860-historicalvitalrecords.nyc.gov/view/9286815
Conohan, S. and Goldstein, R. (1983, February 27). Profaci family empire continuing. Asbury Park Press (Asbury Park, NJ). P. 41. https://www.newspapers.com/image/144299005/
Critchley, D. (2009). The origin of organized crime in America: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. Routledge.
Death of Ignazio Italiano. (1930, August 11). “Florida Deaths, 1877-1939,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-68YQ-V2T?cc=1595003 : 8 August 2019), > image 1 of 1.
Death of Margaret Mangano. (1940, February 10). Certificate no. 3334. Manhattan. New York City Municipal Archives. NYC Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS). https://a860-historicalvitalrecords.nyc.gov/view/6898874
Feather, B. (2016, January 16). Bios. of early Colombo members. https://mafiamembershipcharts.blogspot.com/2016/01/bios-of-early-colombo-members.html
Giuseppe Provenzano naturalization. (1927, March 22). “Illinois, Northern District Naturalization Index, 1840-1950,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GPQQ-9L1N?cc=1838804&wc=M6TM-R68%3A165570801 : 20 May 2014), P-534 Theresa to P-625 Axel, Part A > image 3481 of 5220; citing NARA microfilm publication M1285 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
Italiano household. Lines 1-6. “United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9R4G-PK7?cc=1810731&wc=QZFS-N4F%3A648804501%2C649615801%2C649795001%2C1589282507 : 8 December 2015), Florida > Hillsborough > Tampa > ED 35 > image 62 of 66; citing NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002).
Italiano households. Lines 29-46. “United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GR4G-54W?cc=1810731&wc=QZFS-N4F%3A648804501%2C649615801%2C649795001%2C1589282507 : 9 December 2015), Florida > Hillsborough > Tampa > ED 35 > image 44 of 66; citing NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002).
Manifest of the Taormina. (1914, April 23). Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Lines: 6-12; Page Number: 55 Ancestry.com. New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Marriage of Vincent Mangano and Margaret Italiano. (1930, April 7). “Florida Marriages, 1830-1993,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-L1DS-6MG?cc=1803936&wc=4JHR-WNC%3A1590072670%2C1590072709 : 12 July 2019), Hillsborough County > Marriage licenses, 1929 Aug-1930 Nov, vol N8-N11 > image 615 of 1098; citing multiple County Clerks of Court, Florida.
“New York State Health Department, Genealogical Research Death Index, 1957-1963,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2CHY-B3K : 9 December 2014), Joseph Profaci, 06 Jun 1962; citing Death, , New York State Department of Health—Vital Records Section, Albany.
Profaci one of 1st bosses. (1983, February 27). Asbury Park Press (Asbury Park, NJ). P. 41. https://www.newspapers.com/image/144299005/
Pubblicazione di matrimonio, Salvatore Proface and Rosalia Schillaci. (1894, March 3). Record no. 2. “Italia, Palermo, Palermo, Stato Civile (Tribunale), 1866-1910,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G971-H9H6-8?cc=2051639&wc=MCT9-92S%3A351055601%2C353776201%2C353786501 : 22 May 2014), Palermo > Villabate > Nati, pubblicazioni, matrimoni, cittadinanze, morti 1879, 1886, 1890-1895, 1897 > image 882 of 1209; Tribunale di Cagliari (Cagliari Court, Cagliari).
Report of birth, child born abroad of an American Father, American Consular Service. Palermo, Italy. (1935, March 13). National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, D.C.; Decimal Files, compiled 1910 – 1949; Record Group: 59, General Records of the Department of State, 1763 – 2002; Series ARC ID: 2555709; Series MLR Number: A1 3001; Series Box Number: 425; File Number: 131 Range: Pozo – Queyeser Ancestry.com. U.S., Consular Reports of Births, 1910-1949 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
Slain gangster leaves $20,000. (1928, July 6). Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI). P. 5. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/11616143/michael-di-pisa/
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