Frank “The Prime Minister” Costello, was born Franceso Castiglia on January 26, 1891 in Lauropoli, Calabria Italy. In 1900 he and his family immigrated to the United States to join his father who had moved to East Harlem, NY several years earlier. At the age of 13 his brother introduced him to gang activities and he became a member of a local gang and started using the name Frankie. Costello went to jail three times for committing assault and robbery. In 1918 he was arrested and spent ten months in jail for carrying a concealed weapon. Costello never carried a gun again and instead swore to use his brain and not violence to make his money.
Costello met Charlie “Lucky” Luciano and they became fast friends and partners. Some older members of the Luciano family disapproved because he was not Sicilian making him an outsider in their eyes. He was often referred to as the “dirty Calabrian”. The gang would later include notorious names like Vito Genovese, Tommy “Three-Finger Brown” Lucchese, Meyer Lansky, and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. They became involved in extortion, theft, robbery, gambling and narcotics. The Luciano-Costello-Lansky-Siegel alliances prospered and money really started flowing in 1920 with prohibition and the Volstead Act. Bootlegging was added to their list of crimes that were backed by Arnold “the brain” Rothstein, making large payments to politicians, judges and police to the tune of about $100,000 a week for protection. The alliance was making about $4 million a year from alcohol profit alone, but it was nothing compared to Al Capone’s $100 million a year profit. In 1922, Costello and Luciano joined the Sicilian mafia crime family led by Joe “the boss” Masseria and by 1924 Costello was a close associate of Dwyer and Madden, Hell’s Kitchens Irish crime bosses. This is also about the time he changed his last name from Castiglia to Costello which is an Irish name and he became very deeply involved in the rum-running operation known as “The Combine”. In 1926 Bill Dwyer went to jail and Costello took over the Combine’s operations with Owney Madden. This caused friction because Charles ‘Vinnie” Higgins thought he should be running the Combine, not Costello, causing the “Manhattan Beer Wars”, Higgins on one side and Costello, Madden and Schultz on the other. With the help of Higgins, Jack “Legs Diamond and Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll started causing problems with Schultz, which eventually cause the downfall of the alliance between Costello, Madden and Schultz.
Costello continued to be influential throughout the 1920’s, keeping Luciano, Lansky and Siegel as close associates an involved in his gambling racket. Costello got the nickname “The Prime Minister of the Underworld” for his workings with New York’s criminals, business men, judges, politicians and police officials. As his influence grew fellow gangsters saw him as the link between the Mafia and the politicians. This gave him the opportunity to buy favors from politicians, cops, attorneys, judges and anyone else they needed to bribe to run their criminal rings without interruptions.
In 1927 Costello along with Luciano and Chicago gangster John “Johnny the Fox” Torrio organized an East Coast rum-runner bootlegging operation. To gain an advantage over the competition, minimize overhead, and maximize profits the gang pooled their European and Canadian liquor sources creating the “Big Seven Group”. This happened to be the first attempt to organize the American underworld into a national crime syndicate. The biggest step in forming a national crime syndicate happened in 1929 in Atlantic City, New Jersey where a crime convention was held. Hosted by Costello, Luciano, Torrio, Lansky and Atlantic City crime boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson. Top crime leaders from across the country were invited to take part in the biggest step that would control criminal operations, dictate policy, enforce rules and maintain authority in the national underworld. Not invited were Salvatore Maranzano, born in Castellammare Del Golfo, Sicily and Masseria because their old world beliefs were counter-productive to the conventions goals.
In 1928, Costello’s mentor Rothstein was murdered over gambling debts, causing Costello and Luciano sign up with Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria, head of the Morello family. A feud erupted between Masseria and Maranzano due to the fact that Masseria had taken over for Morello while he was in prison. The feud eventually erupted into an outright was which on helped Costello’s place in the New York underworld. The Castellammarese War erupted when Masseria ordered an assassination of the leader of a Brooklyn gang with Maranzano’s outfit. This war is the basis for “The Godfather” movies.
In part to end all the killing and because they knew Masseria disapproved of Costello’s non Sicilian background, Luciano and Costello switched sides along with Genovese and Lucchese and their group of “Young Turks” and they conspired with Maranzano to execute Masseria. On April 15, 1931 their plan was carried out in Coney Island when Masseria was gunned down at Scarpato’s restaurant while he played cards. Luciano then took over as head of the Masseria family and made Costello his consigliore. Once Masseria was out of the picture Maranzano surprised everyone by naming himself the “Boss of all Bosses”. Costello and Luciano knew that Maranzano would have to be executed as well but knowing he was power hungry, they moved up their plans. On September 10, 1931, Maranzano was killed in the Helmsley Building in Manhattan by men hired by Luciano and Lansky.
Luciano moved to the top taking over as the “boss of all bosses” and took over the day-to-day business. Costello was one of the biggest earners, running a large gambling enterprise. After having all his gaming machines dumped into the East River by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, Costello simply moved his games to New Orleans. Luciano went to jail on charges of prostitution leaving Genovese in charge of the family. A year later Genovese fled to Italy to avoid murder charges and Luciano put Costello in the position of acting head of the family. He was a successful boss, he controlled massive gambling empires across the country and at the end of WW II Luciano was deported to Italy putting Costello firmly in control of the family. At the same time Genovese was brought back to the U.S. to face murder charges, which were eventually dropped, and he started a campaign to oust Costello or have him killed. This proved to be a tough job since Costello had plenty of support.
Costello’s undoing came due to the Kefauver Hearings on organized crime. With testimony from over 600 mobsters, politicians and lawyers, Costello refused to plead the 5th but didn’t answer many questions. Genovese used this to oust Costello and on May 2, 1957, Genovese’s driver shot Costello in the head as he walked to the elevator in his apartment building. Costello survived and refused to identify the man who shot him. Costello stepped aside and let Genovese take over the family and they made peace with each other.
Frank Costello suffered a heart attack in his Manhattan apartment on February 7. 1973 and was rushed to Doctors Hospital, after 11 days in the hospital, on February 18, 1973, Frank Costello died.