Hunting Down Vito Genovese in WWII Italy

Oct 9, 2009 - by Tim Newark - 0 Comments

June 1, 2007

Vito Genovese

Vito Genovese

Tim Newark is the author of the recently published Mafia Allies: the True Story of America's Secret Alliance with the Mob (Zenith Press). This article is an adapted extract from that book.

by Tim Newark

Top Mafia Mobster Vito Genovese fled New York in 1937 and settled in with the Fascist regime in mainland Italy. When the Allies invaded Italy, he swiftly changed sides and became close to the senior Allied administration. It would take a remarkable young CID officer by the name of Orange C. Dickey to hunt him down.

Mafia Goldmine

As the Allies entered Vito Genovese's realm in Nola, near Naples, in the autumn of 1943, he offered to help them as translator and guide to the region. U.S. Major E.N. Holmgreen, the civil affairs officer in Nola, was so impressed with Vito Genovese that he wrote him a letter of recommendation on Nov. 8, 1943.

"The bearer [of the letter], Vito Genovese," wrote Holmgreen, "is an American citizen. When the undersigned arrived at Nola District as CAO [civil affairs officer], Mr. Genovese met me and acted as my interpreter for over a month. He would accept no pay; paid his own expenses; worked day and night and rendered most valuable assistance to the Allied Military Government. This statement is freely made in an effort to express my appreciation for the unselfish services of this man."

That Genovese could afford to appear unselfish is no big surprise. He knew he had just struck a new criminal gold mine—the black market in American military goods. The FBI later quoted a U.S. attorney's report on his activities during this period.

"During the war he [Genovese] acted as translator for numerous American military government officials," stated the report, "and at the same time was active in black-market activities. These activities consisted of stealing United States Army trucks, driving them to supply depots, loading them up with flour, sugar and other supplies, which material was then driven to a place of concealment and unloaded. The trucks were then destroyed."

Vito Genovese continued to make a fortune from his mastery of the black market in wartime Italy until August 1944. Luke Monzelli, a lieutenant in the Carabinieri, claimed that a young Italian army sergeant investigated the discovery of a mysterious freight carriage full of cereal and salt parked in a siding near Nola. He revealed the link between Genovese and senior Sicilian Mafiosi, but was told to forget about it—it was a secret military matter. He was later transferred out of the region, as was Monzelli.

It would be up to a fearless and determined 24-year-old U.S. Sgt. Orange C. Dickey to blow Genovese's cover.

Trapping the Mobster

Sgt. Dickey gave his testimony of his investigation regarding Vito Genovese before three law officers in the Brooklyn office of District Attorney George Beldock on Sept. 1, 1945.

"I arrived in Italy on or about the 19th day of December 1943," he reported. "My assignment was intelligence sergeant of a service squadron. I was appointed criminal investigation agent [Criminal Investigation Division] on the 2nd of February."

He first came across the name of Vito Genovese in late April 1944. At that time, he was investigating black market activities in olive oil and wheat in Italy between Foggia and Naples. Dickey had a lucky break in that a former senior gang member of the Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia, had married an American girl and bought his way out of the organization. This man now pointed the finger at Vito Genovese, calling him the head of the Mafia in southern Italy. During the first part of May, Dickey single-handedly began a thorough investigation of Vito Genovese in the district of Nola, east of Naples.

"On or about the 2nd day of June, I proceeded to a vineyard located approximately seven miles from Nola proper in the Commune of San Gennaro, where I found several United States Army trucks which had been destroyed by fire. In tracing these trucks by serial numbers and other identification means, we found the trucks had been stolen from docks in Naples and been driven to a quartermaster supply depot, where they were loaded principally with flour and sugar, after which they were driven to the area where they were found by myself, and the supplies unloaded onto cars and transported into nearby towns, for sale—after which the trucks were destroyed."

Shortly after this discovery, Dickey arrested two Canadian soldiers who had deserted their posts to serve as drivers of these stolen trucks.

"The important part of their statements," said Dickey, "is the fact that they were told that when they reached the point of destination for these trucks, they were to say 'Genovese sent us'… And the truck is parked and they are paid off and then leave the area."

Dickey continued to gather his evidence and then presented it to his superior officers. They gave him the okay to arrest Genovese. On the day that Genovese was arrested, a copy of a report from the Allied Provincial Public Safety Officer in Viterbo, north of Rome, was sent to the office of Col. Charles Poletti, then commissioner of Allied Military Government in Italy. Getting wind of the mobster's imminent arrest, U.S. administrators wanted to clarify exactly what their relationship had been with Mr. Genovese.

"Careful examination of the records and antecedents of the above named [Vito Genovese] has been made of all employees on the AMG [Allied Military Government]. Payroll of this Province, and it is definite that such a person is not employed in this Provincial organization."

That was hardly surprising as Genovese operated way to the south of Viterbo, around Naples. The report then tried to identity the mobster with another bad character.

"In the records of the Questore, a subject named Vito Genovese di Giuseppe, born on 12/7/88, at Avignano, resident in America for many years, was charged on 9th July 1935, before a Military Tribunal in Naples for the offence of desertion, and was sentenced to one years imprisonment in a Military Prison. He is known by the nick-name of 'Mafrita,' and it would appear that this man is identical to the subject of the enquiry."

Except that this man was not the same Genovese. 'Mafrita' was almost a decade older than the gangster who had been running a criminal empire in the United States while he was in prison in Italy. The same report did, however, acknowledge that Genovese was employed by Maj. Holmgreen and three other U.S. officers. Now that was the real Genovese.

Whether this report was a genuine attempt to identify the mobster or a smoke screen to distance the U.S. administration in Italy away from him, we will never know. It was dispatched on the exact day that Genovese was arrested.

On Aug. 27, 1944, Vito Genovese arrived in the office of the Town Mayor of Nola to request a travel permit. An armed chauffeur accompanied him. While the Mafioso's bodyguard parked the car, Dickey made his move.

"I approached Vito Genovese, in the company of two English soldiers, and requested that he accompany me to the Military Police Office in Nola, which he did... Immediately after the arrest of Vito Genovese, I proceeded to downtown Nola and confiscated the vehicle in which Genovese had been riding. This vehicle was an Italian civilian car, Fiat model 1500.

"I searched the vehicle and in the compartment in the rear of the front seat—I mean the private front seat – I found two Italian weapons, one a 9mm Beretta and the other a 7.65 Victoria, both fully loaded."

Military Custody

A few hours after the arrest of Genovese, Nicola Cutuli arrived at the AMG offices in Naples. He was Questore of Rome, the most senior investigative police officer in the country. He demanded that Genovese be released into his custody and taken to Rome. The Americans refused. Later, CID officers found a sheet of paper with Cutuli's name on it in Genovese's apartment.

While Dickey proceeded with the paperwork of his arrest, an informant in Nola gave him a copy of a book entitled Gang Rule in New York City, by Craig Thompson and Raymond Allen, published in 1940. In the book, he found a photograph of Genovese and it identified him as a former gangster associate of Lucky Luciano. Dickey showed his prisoner the picture.

"Sure," said Genovese, "that's me when I was in New York City."

When Dickey asked him about running the black market in Italy, he denied some of the charges but accepted others. Dickey then contacted the FBI and they informed him that Genovese was wanted for questioning over a murder in New York.

Coincidentally, earlier in the month, a New York newspaper report Aug. 9, 1944, said: "The whereabouts of all six [wanted for the murder of Ferdinand Boccia] were said to be unknown but an interesting sidelight on Genovese was that he was reported recently to have been in Italy acting as an interpreter for the Allied Military Government there."

"The Army officials are going to bring him back," said Brooklyn D.A. Thomas Hughes. "How or when he will brought back I cannot say."

With Genovese safely under arrest, Dickey searched Genovese's apartment in Nola and found a bundle of documents. "Among these papers," remembered Dickey, "there was a small paper on which was written a number, easily identified as the number of a U.S. Army truck. Beneath this number was written, "The Shed." In a previous case I had learned that the shed was a large underground storeroom and was used as a storage place for contraband wheat."

Dickey then went to Genovese's apartment in Naples where he found large quantities of PX supplies, such as soap, candy bars and cigarettes. He also found a powerful radio receiver—used for receiving information on the arrival of valuable contraband. Among the documents found in Genovese's apartments were several business cards and other papers that linked him to prominent businessmen in the area as well as judges, the town mayor of Nola, the president of the Bank of Naples, and AMG officers.

There were nine official AMG travel passes, several just made out to the bearer—a sign of Genovese's influence within AMG. They even entitled the bearer to fill up with American gas. One was made out to a local leading dealer in olive oil. Two papers signed by AMG officers entitled Genovese to receive American food supplies—in violation of Army regulations. One business card belonged to Innocenza Monterisi, a mistress of Genovese who, according to Dickey, also supplied women for Allied officers.

But nowhere was found any significant stash of money. Dickey had his suspicions about a safe deposit vault in Banco del Lavoro in Nola. Genovese denied having a vault or a key for it. The bank records said the vault belonged to the gangster, but despite going before a Tribunal in Naples, a court order was refused to Dickey to force its opening. Dickey knew that one of Genovese's henchmen had visited it on the day he was arrested. A U.S. Army seal was put on the vault to prevent its opening.

Genovese was still in military custody in November, as Dickey waited for an arrest warrant to arrive for him from the United States. But no one wanted to make a decision on what to do with him. There was no suggestion even of putting him on trial for black market charges in Italy.

"At this time," said Dickey, "the Army did not seem very interested in returning this man to the States, and I was told that I was 'on my own, to do anything I cared to.'" It was an extraordinary situation, but clearly Genovese's associates in and outside the U.S. Army were working their influence as best they could and stopped any fast action on Genovese in the hope that Dickey might get fed up with the procedure and let him go.

That this might be the tactics of very highly placed U.S. officers was demonstrated when Dickey visited Rome to talk to Col. Charles Poletti, then commissioner of Allied Military Government in Italy. "I wanted him to tell me whether I should try him by civilian authorities," said Dickey, "whether Allied Military Government intends to try him, or whether the U.S. Army has control, or what I should do with him."

Poletti Asleep

Dickey arrived at Poletti's headquarters at 10 a.m. and was told to go straight to his office and walk in. Excited at the prospect of finally getting some advice on what to do next with Genovese, Dickey pushed open the door of Poletti's room. But he wouldn't be getting any sense out of the colonel.

"He seemed to be asleep," remembered Dickey. "He had his arms folded on the desk and his head down on his arms."

Dickey returned two more times that day to see Poletti but did not get to speak to him. "On both these occasions his office was jammed with people… I was kept waiting on both occasions for long periods, and after making several attempts to talk to him, I left… [Poletti was] just walking around, giving orders to the girls; but it didn't seem to be essential business, just more or less enjoying himself."

It was outrageous behavior from Poletti who, obviously, did not want to be dragged into the Genovese affair. Dickey then bumped into Brig. Gen. William O'Dwyer in the hall outside Poletti's office. O'Dwyer was on leave as district attorney from Brooklyn to serve in Italy. He knew all about the Genovese case but underlined the policy of his boss, Poletti, to steer well clear of it and advised Dickey to bypass his senior officers and deal directly with Brooklyn D.A. Thomas Hughes. (O'Dwyer would be later charged by a grand jury of incompetently failing to prosecute senior mobster Albert Anastasia.)

Returning from Rome to Naples, Dickey reported Poletti's behavior to his immediate superior officer. "He took no particular notice of the information," recalled Dickey, "said that he had heard rumors to that effect previously, and with a few casual remarks it was dismissed. So that is the last that was said about Genovese up until the time I made an all-out effort for his extradition."

Dickey pressed on, but by now Genovese was getting desperate. The mobster offered Dickey $250,000 to forget about the whole matter and let him go. At the time, the U.S. sergeant was earning just $210 a month.

"Now, look, you are young," Genovese told him, "and there are things you don't understand. This is the way it works. Take the money. You are set for the rest of your life. Nobody cares what you do. Why should you?"

When Dickey refused the money, the mobster turned nasty and threatened his life and that of his family. Dickey would not be intimidated. Finally, in January 1945, Dickey got the news he had been waiting for. With the help of the War Department, the Brooklyn D.A.'s office had set in motion extradition proceedings. The news traveled fast.

Just seven days later, Genovese's American mobster friends swung into action. The one witness to his involvement in the murder of Boccia was Peter La Tempa, but he was in jail. No problem for Genovese's friends.

On Jan. 15, 1945, La Tempa awoke in his cell with acute gall stone pains. The valuable witness was then given sedatives strong enough "to kill eight horses." Luciano later claimed it was Frank Costello and his associates that set up the murder. With the only major witness against Genovese gone, the mobster no longer feared returning to the United States. In fact, he was glad of the free return journey.

"Kid," he said to Dickey, "you are doing me the biggest favor anyone has ever done to me. You are taking me home. You are taking me back to the USA." Dickey was designated Genovese's guard on the voyage across the Atlantic. Handcuffed together they set sail on board the steamship James Lykes and arrived in New York on the morning of June 1, 1945.

No one met Dickey and his gangster prisoner at the port. He had to organize his own transport to arrive at the district attorney's office of Kings County in Brooklyn that afternoon. He presented himself to the policeman on duty and Asst. D.A. Edward A. Heffernan came down to greet them. When Heffernan recognized the mobster chained to Dickey's wrist, he whispered into the young man's ear.

"Do you mind my saying," said Heffernan, "I am surprised. We never expected to see this boy back here." (Heffernan would later be charged, alongside his boss O'Dwyer, of failing to successfully prosecute gangster Anastasia.)

When Genovese finally appeared before a U.S. court in June 1946, all charges were dropped against him for lack of evidence. "By devious means," said the county judge, "among which were the terrorizing of witnesses, kidnapping them, yes, even murdering those who could give evidence against you, you have thwarted justice time and again."

Dressed smartly in a double-breasted blue suit, white shirt and maroon tie, Genovese smiled. He was now free to continue his career as one of the top Mafiosi in America and exploit his links with the old Mafia in Sicily. Dickey's heroic efforts had all been in vain.

Genovese went on to prosper as top gangster in New York, diminishing fellow Mafiosi, such as Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky. But in 1959, his luck ran out and he was nailed for a narcotics deal and sentenced to 15 years in prison, where he died in 1969.

Dickey became a legend to other CID agents in Italy, but little is known about his life after he left the army. A request to the CID archivist revealed little and they had no record of his later career or death.

 


 

Tim Newark is the author of the recently published Mafia Allies: the True Story of America's Secret Alliance with the Mob (Zenith Press).

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