Born Guarino Moretti in Bari, Puglia, Italy on February 24, 1894, Moretti came to the America with his family to live in New Jersey.
On January 12, 1913, after being convicted of robbery in New York City, Moretti was sentenced to one year in state prison in Elmira, New York. He was released after several months.
From 1933 to 1951, Moretti, in association with Joe Adonis, Settimo Accardi and Abner Zwillman, ran lucrative gambling dens in New Jersey and Upstate New York. His operations were based out of his homes in Hasbrouck Heights (located in Bergen County, New Jersey, just outside of New York City) and Deal (located in Monmouth County, New Jersey along the Jersey Shore).
In 1950, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Organized Crime started an investigation known as the Kefauver hearings, named after its chairman, Sen. Estes Kefauver. Along with other members of Genovese family, Moretti, by then widely known by his alias "Willie Moore," was called to testify. Moretti was the only one who cooperated with the committee. While the other mobsters refused to testify by repeatedly invoking the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which provides legal protection against self-incrimination, the garrulous Moretti told jokes, spoke candidly, and generally played it up for the cameras. For example, when asked how long he'd been in the Mafia he replied "What do you mean, like do I carry a membership card that says "Mafia" on it?" And when asked how he operated politically he said "I don't operate politically, if I did I'd be a congressman." The Senators and spectators in the room broke out laughing at his responses. In doing so, however, he was violating the Mafia code of silence, known as omertà.
In the 1930s, Moretti became friends with then unknown singer Frank Sinatra. Sinatra's first wife, Nancy Barbato, was a paternal cousin of John Barbato, a Moretti associate. Moretti helped Sinatra get bookings in New Jersey clubs in return for kickbacks. Finally, in 1939, Sinatra signed a recording contract with band leader Tommy Dorsey. However, by the early 1940's, Sinatra had achieved national popularity and wanted to sign a more lucrative recording contract, but Dorsey refused to release him from their existing contract. Sinatra asked Moretti for help. In a meeting with Dorsey, Moretti jammed a gun barrel down his throat and threatened to kill Dorsey if he did not release Sinatra. Dorsey eventually sold the contract to Sinatra for one dollar.
In the late 1940s, Moretti become acquainted with comedians Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis while they were performing at Bill Miller's Riviera nightclub in Fort Lee, New Jersey. In earlier years, Moretti and Abner "Longy" Zwillman were watching the club's cardroom when it was previously owned by Ben Marden. In 1947, Martin, Lewis, Sinatra, and comedian Milton Berle all performed at the wedding reception of Moretti's daughter.
As it was being alleged that Moretti's mental condition was possibly deteriorating from advanced stage syphilis,it was feared he was becoming too talkative. An open contract was placed by the mob commission to have him killed. Twelve years later, government witness Joe Valachi described a conversation with Genovese crime family boss Vito Genovese about the Moretti murder:
- "It was supposedly a mercy killing because he was sick. Genovese told me, 'The Lord have mercy on his soul, he's losing his mind'".
On October 4, 1951, Moretti was lunching with four other men at Joe's Elbow Room Restaurant in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. The only patrons in the restaurant, the waitress remembered the men joking together in Italian before going into the kitchen. At 11:28 am, the restaurant staff heard shots fired and ran into the dining room. Moretti was lying dead on his back on the floor with bullet wounds to the face and head. The gunmen had already fled the restaurant.
On the day of Moretti's murder, Martin and Lewis had a lunch date scheduled with Moretti. However, earlier that morning, Lewis learned that he had contracted the mumps and both men totally forgot about lunch. Later, while trying to reach Moretti to apologize and explain, they learned he was dead from the television news.
Moretti's funeral service was conducted at Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. Moretti was buried at St. Michael's Cemetery in South Hackensack, New Jersey. Over 5,000 mourners attended the burial, resulting in a circus-like atmosphere that required police intervention.
In popular culture
- In A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-671-46747-6, Joseph Bonanno referred to Willie Moretti as Frank Costello's "strength". This would later be compared to the relationship between Mario Puzo's character "Luca Brasi" and "Don Vito Corleone's" so-called "strength" in the novel The Godfather.
- In The Sopranos episode D-Girl, the character Christopher Moltisanti tells Jon Favreau the story of Moretti intimidating Tommy Dorsey, which Favreu cites as the inspiration for the Corleone family's efforts to intimidate studio head Jack Woltz into casting Johnny Fontane in one of his movies (by killing one of his prized race horses and putting the head in Woltz's bed) in The Godfather.
- Ingraham, Joseph C. "Moretti, Gambler, Slain by 4 Gunmen in New Jersey Cafe", October 5, 1951. Retrieved on 27 January 2012.
- Staff. "A Gangster is Buried in the Old-Time Style", Life (magazine), October 22, 1951, pp. 36-37. Accessed March 7, 2011.
- Sifakis, Carl (2005). The Mafia encyclopedia pp. 420. Facts on File. ISBN 0-8160-5694-3.
- Joe Bananno with Sergio Lalli (1983). . St Martin's Paperbacks. ISBN .
- Conklin, William R.. "Moretti is Buried in Gangster Style", October 9, 1951. Retrieved on 27 January 2012.