The Puppet Boss
By John William Tuohy
First published: November 2001
Alphonse Tieri, also known as Frank, assumed command of the family after Tommy Eboli was whacked. In 1972, he became the first major organized crime figure indicted under the RICO statute. However, at this point, the Genovese crime family, as it was created, more or less came to an end.
The theory is, that upon the 1969 death of Vito Genovese, Carlo Gambino moved his family into a position of incredible power.
Gambino already dominated the Colombo family when it was led by Joe Colombo, and when Colombo was shot down in 1970, the acting leadership was taken over, from behind the scenes by the power-mad Gambino.
By killing Eboli, under the guise of a dope deal gone wrong, and replacing him with a puppet of his own choosing like Tieri Gambino, he controlled the whole New York underworld.
This theory also states that Tieri was actually run by a hood named Philip "Benny Squint" Lombardo, who answered directly to Gambino.
Vincent Cafaro, AKA "Vinny the Fish" and a protégé of Anthony Salerno, became a government witness in 1986 and told the Feds that at the time of the Eboli murder, Lombardo was already the boss and Eboli was the underboss and Fat Tony Salerno replaced Mike Miranda as consigliere.
When it was time to get rid of Eboli, Tieri was promoted to the position, on paper anyway, as the head of the Genovese crime family, although he was actually little more than a lightning rod for federal investigations, allowing Lombardo to work in the background.
Tieri was born in 1904 in Castel Gandolfo, near Rome and smuggled into the U.S. by way of Marseilles, France, in 1912. He went to prison in 1922 for assault and was considered the biggest loan shark in the country, controlling most of the gambling and loan sharking in the Bronx, East Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens and gambling outlets in New Jersey, Florida, Puerto Rico, California and Las Vegas.
Tieri was involved in the Westchester Premier Theatre scam in 1976-77. The Westchester was an entertainment complex built at Tarrytown, in wealthy Westchester County, an area just north of Manhattan. The theater was built as a bankruptcy fraud in a joint venture between the Gambino and Genovese families.
Frank Sinatra, an old friend to the Genovese family, was brought into the deal by Louis "Dome" Pacella, a soldier in the Genovese family. Of the $360,000 Sinatra made to appear at 12 shows, Pacella skimmed $50,000 for himself as the booking agent.
The theatre eventually went bankrupt, looted of over $9 million. Tieri was more than probably behind the murder of Angelo Bruno, boss of the Philadelphia family on March 21, 1980, after Tieri decided that he wanted Atlantic City for himself.
Although Tieri approved of the hit, he set it up through Anthony "Tony Bananas" Caponigro, the Philadelphia family consigliere who carried through with the murder, assured from Tieri that the murder would be approved by the commission.
On April 18, 1980, Caponigro and brother-in-law Alfre Salerno went to New York to receive the Genovese family's blessing as the new leaders. However, once they were there Vincent Gigante, the Chin, had them murdered because, according to the Chin, the murder of Angelo Bruno was "unauthorized."
Caponigro was tortured, beaten, strangled, shot and stabbed and then his naked corpse was stuffed into a car trunk with $300 in $20 bills stuffed into every orifice of his body, a symbolic gesture, indicating that it was greed that killed him.
Salerno was found dead, stuffed into a mortuary bag, in another car a few miles away, every bone in his face was broken, three bullets lodged in his head.
On June 30, 1980, Tieri was arrested and booked under the still relatively new RICO law--Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act.
RICO was the brainchild of Notre Dame law professor G. Robert Blakey, once a member of Bobby Kennedy's organized Crime Strike Force.
RICO was simple in its concept. It used the actions of mobsters to prove a pattern of racketeering activity, and then clamped down on the leader of that activity.
Tieri was the first boss of a family ever charged under RICO, as head of the Genovese crime family, which was defined as "a continuing criminal enterprise, although his specific crimes included extortion, murder, conspiracy, and bankruptcy fraud."
He was found guilty and sentenced in January, 1981, to ten years in prison.
Tieri died peacefully in his sleep at Mt. Sinai Hospital, New York on April 5, 1981, while free on bail, leaving the Genovese family to face the question of succession. If Phil Lombard had been the official boss behind the scenes, as most experts suspected that he was, then it didn't matter anymore. The hospitalized Lombard was too old and infirm to take over the family.