My New Favorite Mafia Boss

I’ll read anything that’s all about Rhode Island mafia. Hell, I’ll write one of my novels about Rhode Island mafia.

I just finished getting through My Life In The Mafia, a 1973 confession by Vincent Teresa, who’d been a major player in the Patriarca organization before turning government witness. Spotting it in some thrift store one day reminded me how my parents had a copy of it for years and I’d neglected to pack it up with whatever I wanted to save from the widdle house I grew up in when I moved out west and everything got packed up, sold or trashed.

Teresa, through writer Thomas Renner, recounts his life in the mob and the various scams and crimes he’d committed over the years. Mostly stolen goods, bookmaking, loansharking and some stock and bond scams. A lot of the crimes he committed are truly dated – the various forms of check cashing and bank fraud would be nearly impossible now.

But in a story about his time in prison before turning informant, he relates a tale involving Carmine “Lillo” Galante. Lillo, a Bonnano family capo, basically ran the mafia section of the Lewisberg federal prison they dropped Teresa in for his securities fraud activities. And much like we saw in Goodfellas, mob guys have different prison lives than the rest of the population, to a degree. Lillo’s prison job was to run the greenhouse, where he grew his own vegetables and set up a nice grill for cooking the steaks and such regularly smuggled in for him.

And don’t put too many onions in the sauce, etc.

Teresa tells a story where Lillo kept 3 cats as pets inside the greenhouse and in his general realm. Evidently some strays had gotten into the prison yards somehow, and Lillo decided to adopt them.

From page 302:

“Lillo had three cats, and they ate better than most of the prisoners. Every morning they had pure cream for their breakfast with an egg beaten in it. The cats were sort of a symbol of freedom to Lillo. He used to say ‘At least they can get outside – they go outside the wall.’

The hacks almost never came to the hothouse, and when they did, it was just to be sociable. None dared tread on Lillo. I remember one problem came up with a hack because of Lillo’s cats. It was a Friday, and we were having fish in the prison dining room. Lillo sidled up to me and said “You’re not eating your fish, are you Fats?”

I shook my head. “I wouldn’t eat that crap.”

“Well, I want to take it for the cats,” he said. He walked up the row to the hacks and announced “I’m taking Vinnie’s fish.” Then he put it in a plastic bag with his own fish. The hack didn’t seem to mind, so Lillo sort of added insult to injury. “Those cats are pretty hungry. I’ll take two pieces.”

The hack was standing behind the row where the prisoners went through the food lines to eat at the tables. “Hey!” he shouted at Lillo. “You can’t take two, only one to a man.”

Lillo turned around. He gave him a look that froze him in his tracks. “Hey, I said I’m taking two or three pieces for my cat.” His voice was low and soft, but he had ice at the end of his tongue.

The hack stared back at him. “I said you can’t take them,” he snapped.

Lillo’s eyes narrowed, and that sneer of his looked worse than ever. His voice was soft, but it was menacing, It made my blood run cold the way the words came out. “You got kids at home?” he asked.

The hack looked startled. “What?”

“I said, you got any kids at home?” Lillo said again. “You want to see them?” He sort of paused for effect, letting the words sink in. The hack seemed to nod. “Good… then shut your mouth.” Then Lillo took five pieces of fish slowly, one by one while the hack looked, and he put them in the plastic bag. What he said he meant. He wouldn’t have hurt the kids, but the hack would have an accident one day in prison. He wouldn’t have lived to see his kids, just because of a couple of lousy cats. But that was Lillo. No one defied him.

Here’s a picture of Carmine “Lillo” Galante:

Don’t mess with his cats.

You can read all about the drug dealing and other violent crimes the man committed here, and while he became yet another example of “Why do these guys ever eat out at restaurants?” he managed to die with his beloved cigar still in his mouth. And those pics are online too, if that’s your thing.

But regardless of of his violent criminal nature, he couldn’t have been all bad SINCE HE TOOK CARE OF KITTIES!

While none of the people Teresa mentions in his stories were neighbors of mine or dads of kids I grew up with, he does tell a story about a fence for stolen goods I remember by nickname – “The Blind Pig.”

I hope he also took good care of cats.

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