Joe Valachi – Part 4
The Venezia Restaurant in East Harlem was still the hub of activity for New York City gangsters of all nationalities. Instead of hooking up again with his Italian cronies, Valachi joined a mixed crew consisting of several Irish gangsters, two Jews, and two other Italians. Valachi’s new gang had guts, but they were not big in the brains department.
After doing a few jobs with his new guys, Valachi was thrust into the middle of a huge predicament. The problem was that members of Valachi’s new crew were cracking heads with the 116th Street Italian mob, headed by Vincent Rao. Whether he liked it or not, Valachi became immersed in a conflict he needed as much as another bullet in his skull.
One night upon entering the Venezia, Valachi was confronted by Rao, and what Rao told him made Valachi’s head hurt.
“You got some nerve coming in here!” Rao said. “Your Irish friends shot up 116th Street last night, and you were identified driving the car!”
“You’re crazy!” Valachi said. “I was nowhere near 116th Street last night.”
“Well, one of our guys said he thought he made you as the driver,” Rao said. “He was sure about the Irish guys, but not so sure about the driver. But you’ve been hanging out with those guys, so it made sense that you were the driver.”
Valachi convinced Rao he had nothing to do with the previous night’s festivities. Buying into Valachi’s prattle, Rao then had the bright idea of using Valachi for something Valachi had no stomach for.
“Okay, let’s say it wasn’t you driving the car,” Rao said. “But these Irish guys like you. I want you to set them up for us. Will you do it?”
“I’ll think about it,” Valachi said.
Valachi did think about it, and after approaching one of his Irish crew members named Mike and questioning him about the shooting, Valachi was convinced Rao was wrong about the shooters. And besides, who did Rao think Valachi was anyway?
Quite pissed, Valachi phoned Rao.
“Listen, Rao,” Valachi said. “From now on when you meet me, shoot me, because I’m out to shoot you guys. You asked me to do a job only a dog would do. You want me to double-cross my own friends.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Rao said. “We was fine last night.”
“We was not fine last night,” Valachi said. “First, you accuse me of something I didn’t do. And if I didn’t have enough things on my mind, being on bail and all that, you ask me to set up members of my own gang. Why are you picking me to pick on those guys? I don’t like it! So just watch out!”
“Jesus,” Rao said. “I just want to talk to you. Meet me at the Venezia.”
“Fuck you!” Valachi yelled. And then he hung up the phone.
Valachi was now firmly entrenched with his hodgepodge crew and definitely on the outs with the Italian 116th Street gang. In the next few months there were numerous shootouts on and around 116th Street. No gang member was killed, but two innocent schleps got caught in the gunfire and both bough the ranch. Because of the gunplay, the local police now displayed a nightly presence on 116th Street, and this was not good for business.
Valachi was delighted his new crew members had guts, but he soon became disenchanted with their way of doing things in the underworld.
“They had a lot of nerve,” Valachi said. “But no business sense.”
Instead of the relatively innocuous break-in burglaries Valachi was famous for; Valachi’s boys favored more dangerous activities, like armed robberies of anything from subway stations to banks. This was a drastic change from Valachi’s usual M.O., and if they were caught, the gangsters would be facing big time in the big house.
Finally, Valachi convinced his crew to participate in the simple robbery of a clothing store. It turned out to be a big mistake, and a seminal moment for Valachi in deciding that maybe he needed different companionship in the career of his choice.
Valachi had no trouble picking the lock on the clothing store’s front door. Then while he and several gangs members entered the store, Valachi ordered two others to stand outside the store as lookouts. After the looting was complete, Valachi ran outside and saw that his “lookouts” had a half a dozen passerby lined up against the wall, and were going through their pockets, taking cash and jewelry and anything of value.
“What the hell are you guys doing to those people?” Valachi screamed. “This ain’t no game. You do that and it ain’t a burglary any more. It’s a stickup. Them people can identify us!”
The gang jumped into two cars, and that was that.
During the getaway, one of the lookouts told Valachi. “You know, we just don’t like your kind of work.”
Valachi thought about quitting the gang. But 116th Street was off limits to him, so how could he earn a living?
This situation was solved (or Valachi thought) when Ciro Terranova put aside his artichokes for a minute, and he negotiated a true between Rao’s gang and Valachi’s.
But before Valachi could take advantage of the situation, his trial on the loft theft took place. Valachi was convicted of burglary and sent back to Sing Sing. Valachi not only had to do his new stretch, but, since he was still on parole, he had to do the rest of his first imprisonment as well.
The sum total of Valachi’s proposed prison time was three years and eight months.