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Marcello, Carlos

Marcello, Carlos

(b. 6 February 1910 in Carthage, Tunisia; d. 2 March 1993 in Metairie, Louisiana), reputed crime boss of Louisiana who has been linked to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by some conspiracy theorists, though none have produced any credible evidence of his involvement.

Marcello’s Sicilian parents migrated to the French protectorate of Tunisia, where in 1909 his father, Giuseppe Min-acori, left his pregnant wife, Luigia Farrugia, and sailed to New Orleans. He secured work on a sugar plantation where his wife and infant son, Calogero, joined him in October 1910. In the United States the Minacoris changed their last name to Marcello and anglicized their first names, Giuseppe becoming Joseph and Luigia becoming Louise, and gave their son Calogero the Spanish name ’Carlos.’

Joseph Marcello acquired land and became a vegetable farmer in Jefferson Parish, across the Mississippi River from New Orleans. He and Louise, who helped him with the family farm, became naturalized American citizens, and their eight children born in Louisiana were citizens by birth. For some reason Carlos Marcello was never naturalized, an oversight that would later plague him.

Marcello dropped out of school at fourteen years of age and soon ran afoul of the law. As the result of an aborted robbery, he entered prison for the first time in May 1930 to serve nine to fourteen years, but he was pardoned four years later by Louisiana governor O.K. Allen.

In 1935 Marcello opened a bar in the Jefferson Parish town of Gretna, from which he reputedly sold drugs. On 6 September 1936 he married Jacqueline Todaro, the daughter of a reputed underboss of the New Orleans Mafia; the couple had four children. In March 1938 Marcello was arrested for selling twenty-three pounds of marijuana to an undercover federal agent and sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison.

During the early 1940s Marcello reportedly began distributing illegal slot machines in Jefferson Parish for Frank Costello, a reputed Mafia chief in New York City. By the end of 1945 Marcello was said to be a partner in a posh Jefferson Parish casino controlled by Costello. When Sil-vestro “Silver Dollar Sam” Carello, reputed head of organized crime in Louisiana, was deported in May 1947, Marcello apparently replaced him with Costello’s blessing.

On 25 January 1951 Marcello was called before Senator Estes Kefauver’s Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce; however, Marcello invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions. He was sentenced to six months for contempt of Congress, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. However, in February 1953 he was ordered deported as an undesirable alien—an order he would fight for four decades.

On 24 March 1959 Marcello appeared before a committee headed by Senator John L. McClellan that was investigating links between labor racketeering and organized crime; again he “took the Fifth.” The committee’s chief counsel was Robert F. Kennedy, who in 1961 became attorney general of the United States in the administration of his brother John F. Kennedy. As part of an effort to break the power of corrupt labor leaders and Mafia bosses, Robert Kennedy arranged Marcello’s deportation to Guatemala in April 1961. Kennedy accomplished this in a move that was arguably illegal; he used the existence of a bogus Guatemalan birth certificate, which Marcello had obtained through bribery, to get Guatemala to accept Marcello. Marcello’s lawyers accused the government of “kidnapping” and using fraudulent documentation to effect the deportation, and the American Civil Liberties Union protested the government’s “totalitarian tactics.” Two months later, under circumstances never fully explained, Marcello slipped back into the United States and successfully avoided deportation for the rest of his life.

In Mafia Kingfish: Carlos Marcello and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy (1989), John H. Davis suggests that Marcello’s “humiliation” at the hands of Robert Kennedy provided the “motive” for the assassination of President Kennedy. However, Davis’s “case” against Marcello, based on circumstantial evidence and a good deal of speculation, remains unproved.

On 22 September 1966 Marcello was one of thirteen alleged Mafia leaders from seven states arrested in a Queens, New York, restaurant. Marcello avoided testifying before a New York grand jury and on 1 October 1966 returned to New Orleans, where he became involved in an altercation at the airport and was indicted on charges of assaulting an FBI agent. In October 1970, after years of legal wrangling, Marcello entered a federal prison facility and served six months for the assault.

Despite trouble with federal officials, Marcello’s position in Louisiana appeared secure. According to David Chandler {Life, 10 April 1970), Marcello avoided paying most state and local taxes and bribed or influenced officials to use public funds to drain and improve some 6,000 acres of swampland he owned, thereby turning Marcello’s ’$1 million investment in a Louisiana swamp into a real estate bonanza worth $60 million.’

However, Marcello finally overreached. Joseph Hauser, a convicted swindler, “cooperated” with the FBI in an undercover investigation of Marcello. He gained Marcello’s confidence, and the two set out to obtain state insurance contracts by bribing Louisiana officials. As part of a “sting” operation known as “Brilab,” the FBI bugged Marcello’s office and telephones from February 1979 to February 1980 and taped his conversations.

On 30 March 1981 Marcello and four other defendants went on trial for conspiracy, racketeering, and mail and wire fraud in connection with the insurance scheme. On 3 August 1981 Marcello was convicted. Two days later he was indicted on new charges stemming from an attempt to bribe a federal district judge, who was to preside over a racketeering case in Los Angeles involving associates of Marcello.

In January 1982 Marcello was sentenced to seven years in the Brilab case. In April he received ten years in the California bribery case. Despite efforts to fight both convictions, Marcello was ordered jailed on 15 April 1983. As his sentences were to run consecutively, Marcello, at seventy-three, faced the prospect of seventeen years in prison.

However, in June 1989 Marcello’s Brilab conviction was overturned and in October, Marcello—who appeared to be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease—was released on good behavior after serving six years on the bribery charge. At that time the five-foot, three-inch Marcello, known as the “Little Man,” was estimated by federal authorities to be worth $30 million. Upon his release, he returned to his home in suburban Metairie. Marcello lived there quietly until he died in his sleep at the age of eighty-three. No cause of death was released, and he was buried in a private funeral in Metairie.

At the height of his career Marcello perhaps wielded more power in Louisiana than any individual since Huey Long. If he was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, however, he took this secret to his grave.

Although John H. Davis, Mafia Kingfish: Carlos Marcello and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy (1989), contains considerable biographical information on Marcello, the author’s primary intent is to convince the reader, through circumstantial “evidence,” that Marcello was behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. “Carlos Marcello: King Thug of Louisiana,” Life (8 Sept. 1967), and a follow-up article by David Chandler, ‘The “Little Man” Is Bigger Than Ever,’ Life (10 Apr. 1970), emphasize Marcello’s power and influence with Louisiana politicians at the height of his career. Jim Amoss and Dean Baquet, “Carlos Marcello,” a three-part series in the New Orleans Times-Picayune’i Dixie Magazine (14, 21, and 28 Feb. 1982), provide a good biographical overview. Obituaries are in the New York Times and New Orleans Times-Picayune (both 3 Mar. 1993).

Roman Rome

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