He was at the forefront of the mob’s infiltration and corruption of NYC’s window replacement industry, where literally millions of casement windows were contracted by the Department of Housing, for the City of New York, for replacement in city-owned apartment houses. These contracts were worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Vincent (Chin) Gigante – aka “The Chin” “Vincenzo Luigi Gigante” (TN). He was born on March 29, 1928, to Salvatore and Yolanda Gigante (nee’ De Vittimo), in the Greenwich Village section of Manhattan’s Lower West Side. He and his brothers were raised at 181 Thompson Street.
By the late 1950s, he had relocated to another apartment a few doors down from his mother at 206 Thompson Street. He later moved around the same neighborhood to 225 Sullivan Street. Since at least the early 1960s, this is the place he would call home for decades to come.
He had four brothers, three of whom also became affiliated with the mob. Mario (The Shadow), Ralph, and Pasquale (Patsy). A fourth brother, Father Louis, was a well-known Roman-Catholic priest who ran a Bronx parish.
There are several theories of how Gigante acquired his nickname. One is that “Chin” is drawn from his baptismal name of Vincenzo. Another theory is that in his youth his boxed under the ring name of “Billy Chin.”
He stood about five feet eleven inches and weighed a stocky 230 pounds in his younger days. He had a full head of dark brown hair, and brown eyes. And as stated, in his youth his boxed within the stable of Genovese power Thomas (Tommy Ryan) Eboli in Manhattan.
After getting married to a local girl named Olympia (nee’ Grippi), he and his wife purchased a colonial-style home at 5 Arrowhead Road, in Old Tappan, New Jersey, where they chose to raise their four children; Yolanda, Rose-Ann, Salvatore, and Andrew. He also listed the NJ home as his permanent residence although he still largely resided nightly in his old Lower Manhattan neighborhood where he felt most comfortable.
He also kept a decades-long “comare,” coincidentally also named Olympia. Olympia Esposito and Chin would live in a ‘common law’ marriage for decades. They gave birth to a son named Vincent Esposito, who the FBI would later accuse of joining his father in several underworld operations. Gigante essentially lived a double life, to two sets of women and children.
He bought an expensive townhouse on the Upper Eastside where he kept Esposito and their son. Despite all these varied residences with two families, for the most part, Chin lived in neither location full time, often sleeping with his mother in her modest walk-up apartment on Sullivan Street.
FBI # 5020214, NYCPD # B-231328, FBN # NYS-1047
He became affiliated with family boss Vito Genovese as a youth. In time, Gigante was to become the number one aide and “right-hand man” to Genovese. He had taken a liking to the youth and brought Chin into his inner circle. It was alleged that this was because in his younger days Gigante had performed several key pieces of “work” for his benefactor and that Vito rewarded him with a “button.” He soon became the boss’s constant companion, driver, and bodyguard.
In 1957, the young hoodlum’s name would quickly come to national prominence with the murder attempt on iconic Family acting boss Frank Costello. The New York City Police Department determined through informants that Gigante was one of several men that composed the ‘hit team’ that went after Costello.
In fact, Gigante was alleged to be the actual shooter. He was initially identified by the doorman of the building Costello had entered, moments before a lone gunman called out Frank’s name and then fired a single shot into Costello’s head before fleeing into a waiting getaway car at the curb.
It’s said that the two other Genovese hoodlums at the wheel of that getaway car were ‘Tommy Ryan’ Eboli and ‘Cokey Dom’ Alongi. An all-points police bulletin was immediately issued for Vincent Gigante’s apprehension.
For his part, Chin disappeared, going on the lam for several months to avoid arrest. When he did reappear at police headquarters later on, a significantly ‘slimmed down’ Gigante, who had lost weight, and changed his haircut, did his best to plead ignorance of the entire sordid affair.
He was quickly arrested, held for bail, and indicted for the attempted murder of Costello. The case eventually went to trial.
But despite the tremendous publicity the case received because of the players involved, Frank Costello stated emphatically that he could not positively identify his assailant. This selfless act of Omertà all but assured Gigante’s acquittal on all counts.
After the ‘not guilty’ verdict was read aloud in the courtroom, Chin stood, walked across the courtroom to where Frank was sitting, stuck out his hand in friendship, and stated “Thanks Frank.” The savvy, seasoned, underworld boss then shook the hand of his would-be assassin in solidarity….That was Cosa Nostra to the core!
Shortly thereafter, in 1959, Gigante was indicted again, this time along with his mentor Don Vito, and over a dozen other top mafiosi in what prosecutors called an international heroin smuggling and nationwide distribution network.
Gigante was convicted after a highly-charged trial and received a seven-year federal prison term, of which he served almost five years behind bars on. Gigante was specifically accused of having driven to Cleveland, Ohio, with another Genovese underling in order to make a heroin delivery. There were several other counts he was tied to in the indictment as well.
With his release from jail in 1964, he immediately relocated back to his old Greenwich Village stomping grounds. With Vito’s assistance, over the next several years Gigante would reestablish himself as a power in the borgata.
Genovese would remain behind bars for the remainder of his life. But all the more, his young proxy would become his eyes and ears to the outside world. And the ‘enforcer’ for Vito’s edicts whenever that became necessary.
At first, he served under “acting boss” Tommy Eboli. But in time Chin would start to flex his muscles, and it was said that by the late 1960s, he and Eboli were in conflict as to who was going to control the leadership.
With Eboli’s daytime machine-gun murder at Park Slope, Brooklyn, in 1972, Chin moved up into a top hierarchy and leadership position. From that moment forward, he would only become stronger and stronger, until finally ascending to the Family throne.
Despite the tremendous power he wielded, his entire underworld career was pretty much operated from an area not more than a ten-block radius around the Greenwich Village area he grew up in.
Gigante’s police record started in 1945. It included such arrests for:
1945 – assault
1947 – grand larceny and arson of an automobile (pled down to malicious mischief, received probation)
1950 – bookmaking conspiracy (60 days at Rikers Island)
1951 – possession of two blackjacks (dismissed)
1957 – attempted murder (acquitted after trial)
1958 – narcotics conspiracy (7 years at Lewisburg Penitentiary, convicted after trial)
From about 1965 forward, he had often been subpoenaed to various grand jury probes and faced several arrests and indictments for cases that included police bribery of the West New York, NJ, Police Department, and other such mob mayhem. It was at about this point in time (the mid-1960s), that The Chin started to adopt his ‘crazy act.
’ He and his attorneys initially signed him into a ‘psych clinic’ for a mental evaluation. It would become an act that he repeated time and again over the years which enabled him to either get cases dismissed outright, adjoined until further notice (which never came), or to avoid indictment altogether as a defendant “mentally unfit, who could not aid in his own defense.”
Side Note: But despite his tremendous acting abilities to be able to successfully fool professional psychiatrists and ‘shrinks’ over the course of twenty years or so, the federal ‘chickens finally came home to roost.’
In his later years as the boss of the borgata, he was eventually charged (and convicted) under the RICO Statues for racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, extortion, murder, gambling, loansharking, labor union corruption and embezzlement, labor extortion, income-tax evasion, and other overt acts relating to RICO.
After being convicted and jailed as the ‘boss’ of the Genovese Crime Family on a 14-year sentence, Gigante was again indicted. This time it was for having feigned insanity all those years to avoid prosecution. He was charged with obstruction of justice for having subverted the government from its course of justice.
Through his years as the boss, he either owned outright, or more often than not, held ‘hidden interests’ in trucking firms, waterfront related stevedoring-loading firms, garbage disposal companies, vast tracts of real estate, construction companies, restaurants, nightclubs, and bars, gay bars, and other establishments that catered to deviant proclivities, vending machines, and many more legitimate businesses.
In his early years, he was allegedly connected to either have had a hidden ownership of or to have hung out at the following Greenwich Village locations: Rocky’s Barber Shop; Tryan Vending Corp; Vicarl Social Club, at 207 Sullivan St.; 8th Ward Social Club, 64 Elizabeth St.; Tommy’s Bar on Bleeker St.; and Goody’s Bar.
He and his men were also heavily engaged in operating unlicensed “after hours” clubs, one of which was the Shindig, located at 2nd Avenue and E. 55 St.
As a young hood he showed employment at $8,000 a year, and later $15,000 a year, from the Scott Novelty Co., formerly named the Harwyn Fashions (a manufacturer of ladies hats) of 169 Murray Street, Newark, NJ. By 1969, he was listing employment at P&G Motor Freight Company, located at 1171 Zarega Avenue in the Bronx. His job title was that of a “consultant.”
Even before Gigante would rise to power as the acknowledged “boss” of the old Genovese Family, he was extremely versatile in his racket endeavors.
The following is a shortlist of some of his activities: bookmaking, policy-numbers, floating dice and card games, illegal fireworks distribution in Manhattan, shylocking, heroin trafficking, strong-arm tactics and enforcement, extortion and shakedowns, labor union infiltration and racketeering, organized auto-theft rings, vending machine and jukebox rackets, currency counterfeiting, waterfront rackets, burglaries, varied heists, and truck hijacking.
It was also said that for years he operated a large bookmaking and numbers “layoff” business in Lower Manhattan that absorbed the excess betting volume of other gambling operations.
He initially came up under the tutelage of Genovese’s underboss Anthony (Tony Bender) Strollo, acting boss Thomas Eboli, and capos Peter DeFeo, Dominick (The Sailor) DeQuatro, and Pasquale (Paddy Ryan) Eboli. But it was his close friendship with the Vito that fast-tracked his underworld career.
Among the men who were closest to him as his daily associates, partners, and subordinates through the years is like a virtual “who’s who” of the New York Mafia:
• Vito (Bruce) Palmieri
• Dominick (Cokie Dom) Alongi
• Mario (The Shadow) Gigante
• Ralph Gigante
• Pasquale (Patsy) Gigante
• Louis (Bobby) Manna
• John (The Bug) Stopelli
• Dominick (Baldy Dom) Canterino
• Venero (Benny Eggs) Mangano
• Joseph (Joe the Wop) Cataldo
• Joseph Zito
• Vincent (Jimmy Red) Caserta
• Federico (Fritzy) Giovanelli
The above names are among those whom Gigante would most often “tap,” to carry out his wishes and dictates.
He was at the forefront of the mob’s infiltration and corruption of NYC’s window replacement industry, where literally millions of casement windows were contracted by the Department of Housing, for the City of New York, for replacement in city owned apartment houses. These contracts were worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Mafia made sure to either have these contracts steered toward window companies that they held hidden interests in, or forced the owners of ‘independent’ window manufacturing and installation companies to ‘kickback’ a percentage of every window that was installed.
This multimillion-dollar scam would eventually be exposed. It led to a massive indictment that snagged the hierarchies of four of the cities five crime families; Genovese, Gambino, Colombo, and Lucchese.
Also among those indicted for Rico were the owners of several window-installation companies, as well as labor union officials connected to Local # 580, of the Steel and Ornamental Iron Workers Union (AFL-CIO). They were each convicted after trial and received lengthy prison terms.
Vincent (The Chin) Gigante was eventually indicted, convicted, and jailed. Chin died in 2005 while still in federal custody serving out his aforementioned Rico jail term.
Despite his best efforts, he saw his worst nightmare played out. After almost four decades of playing his “crazy act” in order to avoid prosecution, he was still eventually indicted, convicted and jailed…and never hit the streets again. It turned out that Chin’s entire charade of insanity was for naught, after all.
He had gained the moniker of “The Odd Father” by the media for his crazy act, and his ‘act’ had almost become an open comedy among those in the know.
Gigante’s career reenacted the same exact scenario as his mentor and patriarch, Vito Genovese, who had also died behind bars in 1969.
Until next time…”The Other Guy!”