Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno (August 15, 1911 - July 27, 1992) was a New York mobster who served as the powerful front boss of the Genovese crime family to family godfather Vincent Gigante from the 1970s until his conviction in 1986. Usually seen wearing a fedora hat and chomping on a cigar, he was nicknamed "Fat Tony" due to his size.
Salerno was born and raised in East Harlem, New York. As a young man, he became involved in gambling, numbers, loansharking and protection rackets for the Lucky Luciano family, which later became the Genovese family. Salerno was in Michael "Trigger Mike" Coppola's crew. Salerno climbed the family ranks by controlling a billion dollar a year numbers racket operation in Harlem and a multi-million dollar loansharking operation.
Unlike other mob bosses who were remote and reluctant to talk to outsiders, Salerno was very accessible. Mafiosi from Cleveland, Philadelphia, New England, Buffalo and other cities would visit Salerno to talk about various internal problems they wanted resolved. Salerno preferred a low-key existence and led an unpretentious life. He was never spotted at glitzy mob parties, nightclubs or other popular Mafia bistros. He even sent out Christmas cards with a picture of himself in pajamas on the front cover.
In 1959, Salerno was a secret financial backer of a heavyweight professional boxing title fight at New York's Yankee Stadium between Swedish boxer Ingemar Johansson and American boxer Floyd Patterson. No charges were filed against Salerno. Salerno divided his time between a home in Miami Beach, Florida, a 500-acre luxury mega mansion and massive horse farm in upstate Rhinebeck, New York, the Palma Boys Club in East Harlem, and his apartment in the upscale Gramercy Park section of Manhattan. He controlled S&A, a concrete contracting company, and Certified, one of the two major concrete suppliers in Manhattan. Salerno served as consigliere, underboss, and acting boss of the Genovese family.
By the 1960s, Salerno controlled the largest numbers racket operation in the world, grossing more than $1 billion per year. Many mobsters moved out of Harlem and East Harlem when they became predominantly Latino and African-American neighborhoods. However, Salerno kept his headquarters at the Palma Boys Social Club in East Harlem and continued to work in these areas. The FBI accused him of heading a massive bookmaking and loan sharking network that grossed $50 million annually. Salerno hired Roy Cohn as his attorney. On April 20, 1978, Salerno was sentenced to six months in federal prison for illegal gambling and tax evasion charges. In early 1981, after his release from prison, Salerno suffered a mild stroke and retreated to his Rhinebeck estate to recuperate. At the time of his stroke, Salerno was Vito Genovese's underboss.
Genovese front boss
After Salerno's recovery from his stroke and the March 31, 1981 death of Genovese front boss Frank Tieri, Salerno became the new head of the Genovese crime family. Although law enforcement at the time thought that Salerno was the boss of the Genovese family, it later became clear that Salerno was not the true power. Vincent "The Fish" Cafaro, Salerno's right hand man later turned informant, said that Salerno was only a "front man". Ever since the death of boss Vito Genovese in 1969, the real family leader had been Phillip Lombardo. Over the years, Lombardo used several acting bosses to disguise his true status from law enforcement and the other four New York crime families. Over the years, Lombardo trained Vincent Gigante as his successor. According to Cafaro, Salerno became front boss in 1981 to protect Gigante.
On February 25, 1985, Salerno and eight other New York bosses on the "Mafia Commission" were indicted in the Mafia Commission Trial. The trial started in September 1986 and lasted three months. In October 1986, Fortune Magazine named the 75-year-old Salerno as America's top gangster in power, wealth and influence. Many observers disputed Salerno's top ranking, claiming that law enforcement greatly exaggerated Salerno's importance to bring attention to their legal case against him. Salerno bail request was denied and his attorneys appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court. However, in United States v. Salerno the Supreme Court ruled that he could be held without bail because of his potential danger to the community. On November 19, 1986, Salerno was convicted on RICO charges and was later sentenced, along with six other defendants, to 100 years in prison.
While awaiting the Mafia Commission trial, Salerno was indicted on March 21, 1986 in a second federal racketeering indictment. The indictment accused Salerno of infiltrating concrete companies to control the construction of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and other Manhattan high-rise projects. Salerno was also accused of illegally aiding the election of Roy Lee Williams to the national presidency of the Teamsters Union. Salerno pleaded not guilty on all charges. In 1988, Salerno was convicted and sentenced to 70 years in federal prison.
Prison and death
After his conviction and imprisonment, Salerno's health deteriorated because of his diabetes and suspected prostate cancer. On July 27th 1992, Anthony Salerno died of a stroke at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. He died alone at age 81 without family members allowed at his bedside. Salerno was buried at Saint Raymond's Cemetery in the Throggs Neck section of the Bronx in New York.
In popular culture
In the 2011 gangster movie Kill the Irishman, Salerno was portrayed by Paul Sorvino. The film depicts Salerno's role in the gangland war between the Cleveland crime family and Irish mob boss Danny Greene.