Camillo Carmine Galante was born on February 21, 1910, in a tenement building in the East Harlem section of Manhattan. His parents, Vincenzo "James" Galante and Vincenza Russo, had emigrated to New York City in 1906 from Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, where Vincenzo was a fisherman.
Carmine Galante had two brothers, Samuel and Peter Galante, and two sisters, Josephine and Angelina Galante. Carmine Galante married Helen Marulli, by whom he had three children; James Galante, Camille Galante, and Angela Galante. For the last 20 years of his life, Carmine Galante actually lived with Ann Acquavella; the couple had two children together. He was the uncle to Bonanno crime family capo James Carmine Galante.
Galante stood around 5 feet 6 inches and weighed approximately 160 pounds. While in prison in 1931, doctors diagnosed Galante as having a psychopathic personality.
Galante owned the Rosina Costume Company in Brooklyn, New York and was associated with the Abco Vending Company of West New York, New Jersey.
At the age of 10, Galante was sent to reform school due to his criminal activities. He soon formed a juvenile street gang on New York's Lower East Side. By the age of 15, Galante had dropped out of seventh grade. As a teenager, Galante became a Mafia associate during the Prohibition era, becoming a leading enforcer by the end of the decade. During this period, Galante also worked as a fish sorter and at an artificial flower shop.
On December 12, 1925, the 15-year-old Galante pleaded guilty to assault charges. On December 22, 1926, Galante was sentenced to at least two-and-a-half years in state prison.
In August 1930, Galante was arrested for the murder of police officer Walter DeCastilla during a payroll robbery. However, Galante was never indicted. Also in 1930, New York Police Department (NYPD) officer Joseph Meenahan caught Galante and other gang members attempting to hijack a truck in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In the ensuing gun battle, Galante wounded Meenahan and a six-year-old bystander, both survived. On February 8, 1931, after pleading guilty to attempted robbery Galante was sentenced to 12 and a half years in state prison. On May 1, 1939, Galante was released from prison on parole.
By 1940, Galante was carrying out "hits" for Vito Genovese, the official underboss of the Luciano crime family. Galante had an underworld reputation for viciousness and was suspected by the New York Police Department (NYPD) of involvement in over eighty murders. Galante reportedly had a cold, dead-eyed stare with eyes that betrayed an utter indifference to human life, scaring into the eyes of both law enforcement as well as other Mafia members. Ralph Salerno, a former New York Police Department detective, once said, "Of all the gangsters that I've met personally, and I've met dozens of them in all of my years, there were only two who, when I looked them straight in the eye, I decided I wouldn't want them to be really personally mad at me. Aniello Dellacroce was one and Carmine Galante was the other. They had bad eyes, I mean, they had the eyes of killers. You could see how frightening they were, the frigid glare of a killer."
In 1943, Galante allegedly murdered Carlo Tresca, the publisher of an anti-fascist newspaper in New York. Genovese, living in exile in Italy, offered to kill Tresca as a favor to Italian President Benito Mussolini. Genovese allegedly gave the murder contract to Galante. On January 11, 1943, Galante allegedly shot and killed Tresca as he stepped outside his newspaper office in Manhattan, and then got in a car and drove away. Although Galante was arrested as a suspect, no one was ever charged in the murder. After the Tresca murder, Galante was sent back to prison on a parole violation. On December 21, 1944, Galante was released from prison.
On February 10, 1945, Galante married Helena Marulli in New York.
Galante went from being chauffeur of Bonanno family boss, Joseph Bonanno, to caporegime and then underboss. He was said to have been loyal to Bonanno and often spoke of him with great admiration. They also shared a common enemy, Carlo Gambino of the Anastasia crime family.
In 1953, Bonanno sent Galante to Montreal, Quebec to supervise the family drug business there where he worked with Vincenzo Cotroni in the French Connection. The Bonannos were importing huge amounts of heroin by ship into Montreal and then sending it into the United States. In 1957, due to Galante's strong-arm extortion tactics, the Canadian Government deported him back to the United States.
In October 1957, Bonanno and Galante held a hotel meeting in Palermo, Sicily on plans to import heroin into the United States. Attendees included exiled boss Lucky Luciano and other American mobsters, with a Sicilian Mafia delegation led by mobster Giuseppe Genco Russo. As part of the agreement, Sicilian mobsters would come to the U.S. to distribute the narcotics. Galante brought many young men, known as Zips, from his family home of Castellammare del Golfo, Trapani, to work as bodyguards, contract killers and drug traffickers. These Sicilian criminals had Galante's total trust and confidence.
In 1958, after being indicted on drug conspiracy charges, Galante went into hiding. On June 3, 1959, New Jersey State Police officers arrested Galante after stopping his car on the Garden State Parkway close to New York City. Federal agents had recently discovered that Galante was hiding in a house on Pelican Island off the South Jersey shore. After posting $100,000 bail, he was released. On May 18, 1960, Galante was indicted on a second set of narcotics charges; he surrendered voluntarily.
Galante's first narcotics trial started on November 21, 1960. From the beginning, the first trial was characterized by jurors and alternates dropping out and coercive courtroom displays by the defendants. On May 15, 1961, the judge declared a mistrial. The jury foreman had "fallen" down some stairs at an abandoned building in the middle of the night and was unable to continue the trial due to injury. Galante was sentenced to 20 days in jail due to contempt of court. On July 10, 1962, after being convicted in his second narcotics trial, Galante was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.
In 1964, Joseph Bonanno and his ally, Profaci crime family boss Joseph Magliocco, unsuccessfully plotted to murder three rival members of the Mafia Commission. When the plot was discovered, the Commission ordered Bonanno to retire. Over the succeeding 10 years, Bonanno tried to install his son Salvatore Bonanno as boss while the Commission tried to run the family with a series of ineffectual bosses.
In January 1974, Galante was released from prison on parole. A few days after his release from prison, Galante allegedly ordered the bombing of the doors to the mausoleum of his enemy Frank Costello, who had died in 1973.
In November 1974, the Commission designated Philip "Rusty" Rastelli as the official boss of the Bonanno family. However, Rastelli was soon sent to prison and Galante seized effective control of the family. As a former underboss, Galante considered himself the rightful successor to Joseph Bonanno, a man to whom he had always remained loyal.
During the late 1970s, Galante allegedly organized the murders of at least eight members of the Gambino family, with whom he had an intense rivalry, in order to take over a massive drug-trafficking operation.
On March 3, 1978, Galante's parole was revoked by the United States Parole Commission and he was sent back to prison. Galante had allegedly violated parole by associating with other Bonanno mobsters. However, on February 27, 1979, a judge ruled that the government had illegally revoked Galante's parole and ordered his immediate release from prison. By this stage, Galante was bald, bespectacled and had a stooped walk.
The New York crime families were alarmed at Galante's brazen attempt at taking over the narcotics market. Galante also refused to share any drug profits with the other families. Although Galante was aware that he had many enemies, he said, "No one will ever kill me, they wouldn't dare." Genovese crime family boss Frank Tieri began contacting Cosa Nostra leaders to build a consensus for Galante's murder, even obtaining approval from the exiled Joseph Bonanno. They received a boost when Rastelli, the official boss, sought Commission approval to kill Galante as an illegitimate usurper. In 1979, the Mafia Commission ordered Galante's execution.
On July 12, 1979, Galante was killed just as he finished eating lunch on an open patio at Joe and Mary's Italian-American Restaurant at 205 Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Galante was dining with Leonard Coppola, a Bonanno capo, and restaurant owner/cousin Giuseppe Turano, a Bonanno soldier. Also sitting at the table were Galante's Sicilian bodyguards, Baldassare Amato and Cesare Bonventre. At 2:45 pm, three ski-masked men entered the restaurant, walked into the patio, and opened fire with shotguns and handguns. Galante, Turano, and Coppola were killed instantly. A picture of Galante showed a cigar still in his mouth at the time he died. Amato and Bonventre, who did nothing to protect Galante, were left unharmed. The gunmen then ran out of the restaurant.
Those involved in the murder were later identified as Anthony "Bruno" Indelicato, Dominick Trinchera, Dominick Napolitano and Louis Giongetti. These men were hired by Alphonse Indelicato.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York refused to allow a funeral mass for Galante due to his notoriety. Galante was buried at Saint John's Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens.
In 1984, Bonventre was found murdered in a New Jersey warehouse, allegedly to guarantee his silence in the Galante murder. On January 13, 1987, Anthony Indelicato was sentenced to 40 years in prison, as a defendant in the Commission trial, for the Galante, Coppola, and Turano murders.
In 2005, contract killer Richard Kuklinski (who died in 2006 in Trenton State Prison, New Jersey) claimed that he was one of the hitmen who killed Galante.
Although never mentioned by name, Galante is referred to twice in the movie Donnie Brasco. Galante first appears as a cigar-smoking character known as "The boss". Later in the film, Galante's murder is reported on the front page of a newspaper. Mobster Lefty Ruggiero points to the story and says, "Can you believe it? The fuckin' boss gets whacked!"
The HBO show The Sopranos refers to Galante's assassination in the episode "A Hit Is a Hit". Tony Soprano is playing golf with his neighbor, Dr. Bruce Cusamano. After someone asks Cusamano if he ever saw the picture of the dead Galante with a cigar hanging from his mouth, Cusamano describes the murder as a "fuckin' beautiful hit".
Galante is depicted in the first episode of the UK history TV channel Yesterday's documentary series Mafia's Greatest Hits.