There has been this widespread notion at least put out there by Michael Franzese that he was the biggest money maker the mob has ever seen. That's not accurate. In fact a lot of what Franzese says is inaccurate.
For starters, and this article isn't about Michael Franzese, it's about Tony Salerno, but considering Franzese brags about his money making abilities, and that he's likely one of the biggest money makers ever, let's really look at this objectively.
rs Michael Franzese is a rat. Now, where this goes adrift is that many people consider that because he didn't squeal on the mob, that he's somehow not a rat. Code for rat, is anyone who testifies against anyone else to get a light sentence, or to give themselves better options. That's exactly what Franzese did. It's public record.
Franzese snitched out Norby Walters whom he considered a "close friend, and uncle." Michael signed a cooperation agreement with the FBI in May of 1989. That agreement compelled him to testify against others through April of 1990. In fact he was released after signing the cooperation agreement. Who was Norby Walters? He was a racketeer from Chicago who essentially was extorting the Jackson Five. As result of Michael's testimony, Walters served five years in prison for racketeering. But he didn't stop there.
He also testified against a lowly janitor, whom used to work for his father Sonny. Did he stop there? No. He also provided made members names in other mob families to the FBI. So the idea that he can sit there and say he wasn't a rat, is laughable at best.
I included that because when you try and avail yourself as someone who was the biggest money maker, and someone who walked away from the life, well, you're lying it's as simple as that. Franzese at the end of the day did make serious money, but he was a rat, and that's the long end of it.
Tony Salerno on the other hand, made a killing financially, and even took it on the chin and got sentenced in the Commission Trial to 100 years for being the "front boss" of the Genovese Crime Family. See Salerno wasn't the boss, Vincent Gigante was, but at the time the Genovese's were using a front boss system, and Salerno got convicted for being something he wasn't. Did he rat? Nope. He accepted his fate and went away for the rest of his life. It wasn't until a month or so after the conviction that the Government realized, or at least admitted they were wrong, but at that point, it was a moot point. The FBI was satisfied with the result and that was that.
So who was Tony Salerno? He was perhaps the biggest loanshark, gambling and numbers racket guy there ever was. Tony grew up in East Harlem and got his start with the Luciano Crime Family, which would later be renamed the Genovese Crime Family. He was a member of the 116th Street Crew, headed by Michael "Trigger Mike" Coppola.
Salerno rose to power by controlling a million dollar a year numbers racket in Harlem alone. He also provided one of the biggest loan sharking operations the mob has ever seen. In 1959 Salerno was the financial backer of the pro boxing match between Ingemar Johansson and Floyd Patterson which was held at famed Yankee Stadium. He also had one of the biggest concrete companies in all of New York in S&A Concrete.
By the early 60's Salerno's numbers racket was pulling in $50 million dollars a year. His bookmaking and loansharking operations were pulling in over $2 million dollars a year. Salerno led a quiet life, didn't attend parties, stayed out of the social scene and continued to split time between Florida, Manhattan and Harlem. He never left where he grew up.
In 1978 he was sentenced to federal prison(six months) for tax evasion and gambling related charges. in 1981 Salerno suffered a stroke, and was essentially shelved by Vincent Gigante. It was more because of his health than say abilities. Gigante had taken over the family from retired boss Philip Lombardo, and had effectively reduced Salerno to a soldier. Salerno became morose with the boredom of retired life and asked for permission to return to the rackets which Gigante accepted and allowed.
The trouble began for Salerno in 1985 when Fortune Magazine named Salerno as "America's Top Gangster in Power, Wealth and Influence." It essentially put Salerno on the FBI's radar. This was perhaps the sole reason why he was indicted in the Commission Trial, and ultimately sentenced to 100 years.
In 1985, Salerno was indicted in the Commission Trial, and while awaiting trial for that case, he was indicted in a second racketeering case in 1986. The second indictment was for federal racketeering. Salerno was accused of infiltrating concrete companies which controlled the building of the Sloane Kettering Cancer Center, and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and multiple high rise projects throughout Manhattan. He was also accused of illegally funding the election of Roy Lee Williams, to the national presidency of the Teamsters Union. He plead "not guilty," was found guilty and sentenced to 70 years. Salerno also was a member of the Concrete Club which effectively owned NYC. You couldn't get concrete poured without paying Salerno and Company.
Taking charges aside for one second, the 70 year sentence would have rendered Salerno null in void. He would have still died in prison, however one has to look deeper. The FBI thought, at the time, which I believe was more "guess work," then actual proof, that Salerno was the boss of the Genovese Crime Family. In 1986 shortly after Salerno's conviction in the Commission Trial, the Government was informed by Vincent "The fish" Cafaro, that Salerno was not the boss, but only an illusion, as Gigante was really the man behind the curtain since 1969. In fact a wiretap picked up by the FBI prior to the trial proved that Salerno wasn't the boss. There was a disagreement between Matthew Ianniello and Salerno over a list of prospects which were to be inducted into the mafia by other families. Confused by the nicknames Salerno told Ianniello that he would "let the boss figure it out." So the FBI essentially knew then Salerno wasn't the leader of the family, but still named him anyway. The same type of bullshit was done by the Government when it came to Carmine "the snake" Persico. While racketeering charges aside both these men where charged with controlling a family, getting 100 years for a "position" they didn't even have or hold.
Salerno would head to prison and die in 1992 due to complications from a stroke and other medical issues.
Anthony Salerno was a money making machine. Just looking at the numbers $50 million back in the 1960's is approximately $400 million per year today. Franzese only wishes he made that kind of money. Anthony Salerno truly was the epitome of what an earner is. Sadly, we cannot calculate how much money he made from construction and everything else, but just taking his numbers and gambling rackets, one could safely assume he made a billion dollars a year for the mob. Not only was he highly regarded and respected, but when it came time to take a death sentence pinch for his family, he said nothing. He accepted his fate, and he didn't have to. Better than Franzese. He was a man's man, the other was a punk.