Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Carlos Marcello: Big Daddy In The Big Easy


In 1960, Carlos Marcello had handed over $500,000 in cash to Jimmy Hoffa, the corrupt head of the Teamsters Union. He was to arrange transfer of this into the campaign funds of Richard Nixon who was fighting election against John F. Kennedy. Hoffa and the Mob desperately wanted Nixon to win the election.

In 1973, Nixon was president and barnstorming through the White House trying to plug all the leaks that were spouting over Watergate, and recording it on tapes for posterity. He urgently needed $120,000 to pacify E. Howard Hunt, a former CIA official, who had organized the Watergate burglary. It is possible that this money came from Carlos.

There were many people who believed that Nixon and the Mafia were bedfellows. Martha Mitchell, wife of the former Attorney General told UPI reporters, "Nixon is involved with the Mafia." Nixon's chief of staff, General Haig, even ordered an investigation into the president's Mob ties through the Army's Criminal Investigation Unit.

In 1972, Richard Nixon arranged an unprecedented presidential pardon for New Jersey mobster, Angelo DeCarlo, a feared killer and capo in the Genovese crime family. It seemed that Nixon was paying back favours for more financial contributions to his re-election campaign. If Nixon was linked to the Mob, there can be little doubt that one of his connections to it was Marcello.

By 1972, Carlos was sixty-two years old, richer and more powerful, possibly the most powerful Mafia boss in the nation. His only contender to this title may have been Carlo Gambino, the ageing don who ran what was perhaps the biggest [Mafia] family in the country, based in Brooklyn. The House Select Committee on Crime declared in 1972, "We believe Carlos Marcello has become a formidable menace to the institution of government and the people of the United States."

Called before the committee in June, Carlos was his old self. Formed to investigate the Mob's infiltration of professional sports, members grilled Carlos on his criminal ties. As usual, they got zilch. Repeating a well-worn story, he told his congressional inquisitors: ".... I'm not in no [Mafia].... not in no racket, and not in organized crime."

In June 1971, the FBI reorganized its New Orleans office and appointed a young, tenacious agent called Harold Hughes as head of a strike force to target Marcello. By 1972, with the death of J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI was finally able to exert real pressure on the Louisiana Mafia. By the mid 1970's, pressure was also building up on him from another direction.

In 1973, the first book was published on the assassination of President Kennedy, pointing a finger at Marcello; although in 1969, famous crime writer Ed Reid in his book The Grim Reapers had hinted at a possible connection. In 1976, an Italian documentary film called The Two Kennedys specifically nailed the Mafia as the force behind the murders of the brothers, again naming Marcello as the principal suspect.

And so, in September 1976, after much political and media activity, the 94th Congress established the House Select Committee on Assassinations to investigate the murders of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King. With a support staff of 170 lawyers, investigators and researchers, and a huge (for the time) budget of $6.5 million, this one had all the indications of a major inquiry. However, because of political in-fighting and procedural disputes, the Committee did not get off the ground until April 1977, with a reduced budget of $2.5 million, and a chairman called Professor G. Robert Blakey, a law professor at Cornell University and an acknowledged expert on organized crime. He was also the author of the famous RICO statute that five years down the track would come to haunt Marcello.

One of the Committee's first objectives was laid down by Staff Counsel, Robert Tannenbaum to investigate possible connections between Carlos Marcello and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It was the first time in the fourteen years since the event that Marcello's name was publicly raised as a potential suspect.

On January 11, 1978, Carlos appeared as a witness before the House Committee. He had not been called as a suspect and his sworn testimony was given under a grant of immunity. He was, however, not the first boss to be interviewed. Santo Trafficante Jr. had been interrogated on March 16, the previous year. Speaking without immunity, Santo took the 5th on every question.

When he took the stand, the first question Carlos was asked was if he had any involvement in organized crime. Speaking in his quaint, ungrammatical Italian-New Orleans drawl he said, "No I don't know nuttin' about dat." He denied the existence of the meeting at Churchill Farms, and lied and bluffed his way through the session. He only lost his cool once, when the questioning turned to his illegal deportation.

"Everybody in de United States knowed I was kidnapped...I told the whole world it was unfair," he yelled, his corpulent face growing red with rage.

The New Orleans newspaper The Times-Picayune headlined his appearance: "THE MARCELLO-JFK CONNECTION," and elaborated on the thesis that Carlos had been behind the assassination. Now it was public domain and he and his family would have to live with the disclosure for the rest of their lives.

Although the Committee had a huge catalogue of conspiratorial allegations to investigate, including the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro and or the Cuban government, the anti-Castro Cuban exile groups, the FBI, the CIA and the Secret Service, it was in the area of organized crime that they developed the deepest suspicion. The Committee concluded that probably three men were involved in a plot to murder President Kennedy: Jimmy Hoffa, Santo Trafficante Jr. and Carlos Marcello.

Jimmy Hoffa had disclosed his plans to murder both Kennedy brothers to Edward Grady Partin, a Louisiana teamster official, early in 1962. Jose Aleman documented Trafficante's involvement in front of the Committee, the wealthy Cuban exile who recounted the conversation he had with the Tampa mob boss in 1962, in which Santo had said that President Kennedy would "get hit." But it was Marcello, above all, who was targeted by the investigation.

In the final report, the committee stated, "In its investigation of Marcello, the Committee identified the presence of critical evidentiary elements that was lacking with the other organized crime figures: creditable associations relating both Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby to figures having a relationship, albeit tenuous, with Marcello's crime family or organization."

The reaction of Marcello to the Committee findings was to authorise his principal attorney, Jack Wasserman, the man who had so successfully defended Carlos in his many deportation hearings, to search through the 220,000 pages of FBI documents that covered the assassination. His job was to find anything that might ultimately be used against Carlos to construct an indictment for conspiracy to murder the President of the USA. Wasserman however, died suddenly of a heart attack before he could complete his job.

The way things developed, the Mafia boss did not have to worry about this particular problem. There was however, something else, waiting for him in the wings, which when examined in retrospect, would prove even more damaging.

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