After gangster turned Mafia boss Lucky Luciano, next in line for Portraits of Infamy is his close friend, counselor, and eventually underboss, Frank Costello.
Like Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello was an Italian-born gangster. He moved to the United States in 1900 with his mother and brother. He also began his career of notoriety at a young age, introduced to gangster life by his older brother. At 13, he was already part of a local gang, going by the name Frankie. Later, he was able to legally change his name from Francesco Castiglia to Frank Costello.
Costello committed petty crimes and was jailed several times for assault and robbery. In 1918, he spent ten months in prison for possession of a concealed weapon. After his jail time, Costello decided to begin using his brains, and not brawn, to earn as a criminal, complete his gangster assignments, and advance in the ranks. Ironically renouncing violence to achieve success, Costello said he never had a gun with him.
Costello was best known for his alliance with Lucky Luciano, with whom he forged a strong bond and partnership. However, the old-school mafiosi from Luciano’s Mafia family were firmly against their alliance, unwilling to associate themselves with non-Sicilians, let alone non-Italians. Luciano was advised against working with Costello, whom they regard as “the dirty Calabrian” (in reference to his birthplace in Italy).
Despite this setback, Costello remained in alliance with Luciano and fellow Italian-American gangsters Vito Genovese and Tommy Lucchese, and Jewish mobsters Meyer Lansky and Benjamin Siegel. They were involved in theft, extortion, robbery, narcotics, and gambling, and later on advanced to smuggling banned liquor (bootlegging).
Among his most valuable strengths as a gangster was his ability to befriend the right people—police officers, politicians, and judges—which enabled him to avoid prosecution for his criminal activities. For this, he was called “Prime Minister of the Underworld.”
After Luciano was convicted of prostitution and incarcerated, Costello continued to help him run the Luciano Family, serving as his consigliere (counselor) or third most powerful member. When Luciano’s under boss, the feared Vito Genovese, had to flee to Italy to avoid murder charges in 1937, Costello became the new sotto capo his place. He enjoyed a very profitable term, able to earn from rackets running coast to coast. However, he avoided narcotics, as he believed it is not instrumental to the family’s money-making activities.
The 1950s proved to be a challenging time for Costello. He faced the Kefauver Committee’s investigation on organized crime, denting his reputation as “the fixer.” In 1952, convicted for contempt of the senate, he was imprisoned for about 15 months. Two years later, he received a 5-year prison term for tax evasion. In 1957, Vito Genovese carried out a plan to assassinate him in order to regain control over the crime family; luckily for Costello, his hired hit man failed. Shortly after the failed assassination, the two crime bosses made peace, and Costello stepped down as the boss in favor of Genovese.
For more mug shots and stories on the most prominent gangsters and criminals, don’t forget to check the rest of Portraits of Infamy installments!