New York Camorra

"The Camorra is to Naples what the Mafia is to Sicily." Ironically, the New York branch of this secret criminal society did not receive much recognition in it’s own right, and would be relatively obscure were it not for the bitter rivalry with it's Sicilian counterpart.

When the Spanish took over Italy in the 16,th century, a criminal society known as the Garduna arrived with them. The Garduna was establised in Naples under the name Camorra and spread throughout the region of Campania. It is a secret oath-bound society and would-be members must commit murder as a final test to gain entry to the brotherhood. Like the Mafia, each group is lead by a Caporegime or Capo; the ultimate governing body being the Grand Ruling Council. In essence, the Camorra is to Naples what the Mafia is to Sicily, but there are some very important differences. The Camorra has always thrived in cities whereas the Mafia, although now city-based, came from rural beginnings. Also, the Mafia began as a nationalist movement dedicated to the protection of fellow Sicilians. This accounts for the huge support the Mafia received in Sicilian communities, a support that Neapolitans never shared for the Camorra. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Mafia has always been the more successful of the two societies.

The first known Camorra group in New York appeared in Brooklyn in the early 1900’s and was instigated by Neapolitan extortionist Alessandro Vollero. New York detective Jospeh Petrosino discovered that the New York Camorra was hiding Enrico Alfano, a Camorrista and a wanted fugitive in his native Naples. Alfano had entered the US illegally and was deported in 1907.

Unaware of the ethnic and cultural differences between the various regions of Italy, those outside the Italian-American communities saw no distinction between an Italian from Sicily and an Italian from Campania. In reality, Italian immigrants in the early 20th century stuck with people from their own native towns and regions, and the Camorra were traditional rivals of the more successful Mafia. But by 1916, there were Camorra families in other Eastern US cities and Vollero was considered capo di tutti capi, (boss of all bosses). At this time, they were in a position to compete with the Mafia’s most powerful New York family, the Black Hand Gang of Manhattan.

One of the Camorristas who enroached on Mafia territory was Pelligrino Morano, a Coney Island gangster who operated gambling dens in Brooklyn. In 1916, one of Morano’s men, Nick Del Gaudio, was shot dead in East Harlem, in the heart of the Black Hand’s territory. This was the first shot in the Mafia-Camorra War. In May 1917, all the major Camorra bosses met in the Saint Lucia, a Coney Island restaurant owned by Morano.

Meeting with Vollero and Morano were New Yorkers Lorenzo Legale, Charles Giordano, Luigi Turriese and Luigi Bizarro. Andrea Ricca, the boss of Philadelphia was also present with other Camorristas from outside New York: Eugenio Bizzaro, Albert Esposito, Salvatore Costa, Salvatore Coppolo, Albert Altieri and Tom Corillo. Leopoldo Lauritano, a renegade member of the Black Hand Gang was also present. At the meeting, the Camorra agreed on a plan to wipe out the Black Hand leadership.

Much fighting went on after the meeting in Coney Island, and it took six months for the Camorra to put their plan into action. "Torpedo" Tony Notaro approached the Black Hand leader Nicholas Morello and invited him to attend a peace meeting with Vollero and Morano at Vollero’s café in Navy Street. On November 6 1916, Morello and his underboss, Charles Umbriaco went to the meeting but were shot dead outside the café by four members of the Camorra. Bartolomeo Pagano was the man who had been contracted for the hit. The other shooters were Tom Corillo, Alphonse Sgroi and Johnny "Lefty" Esposito (Lauritano’s personal hit man who had killed for the Black Hand just two weeks previously).

As the war continued, "Torpedo" Notaro and Ralph Daniello were arrested for the murder of mafioso Giuseppe Favarro in 1917. Rather than face life imprisonment, Notaro and Daniello became state witnesses. In September 1918, Vollero and Morano received life sentences for the murder double-murder of Nicholas Morello and Charles Umbriaco. Notaro and Daniello indicated that Leopoldo Lauritano had provided the gunmen, and Lauritano was consequently convicted as an accessory. As cooperating witnesses, Notaro and Daniello received reduced sentences. Upon release, Notaro suffered from the infamous "White Death" meaning he disappeared without a trace. It is interesting that Vollero’s cellmate in Sing-Sing prison was Joseph Valachi, a member of the Mafia and one of history’s most celebrated mob informants.

The convictions effectively ended the power of the Camorra. Many of the gangs continued to operate their gambling and extortion rackets but in the rough prejudiced environment of the New York ghettos produced a more unified Italian community. La Cosa Nostra, the modern American Mafia, began accepting members from outside of Sicily and the Camorra gradually became incorporated into the Mafia. There are still some Camorra factions in the US, but the society holds little of the power it had in the past.

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