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 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 Philip "Benny Squint" 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 groomed 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.
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