Carmine Persico was born on August 8, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, to Carmine John Persico, Sr. and Assunta "Susan" Plantamura. Perisco's father was a legal stenographer for several law firms in Manhattan. His brothers, Theodore Persico and Alphonse "Allie Boy" Persico (died in 1989) also became caporegimes in the Colombo crime family. His son, named Alphonse after the boy's uncle and commonly known as "Little Allie Boy", eventually became a capo as well. Perisco's nephew is Theodore Persico, Jr. The family lived in the Carroll Gardens and Red Hook sections of Brooklyn.
Persico dropped out of high school at age 16. By then, he was a leader of the Garfield Boys, a Brooklyn street gang. However, one contemporary source says that in 1950, Persico had actually belonged to the South Brooklyn Boys, a successor gang to the Garfield Boys. In March 1951, 17-year-old Persico was arrested on charges of fatally beating another youth in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. However, all charges were eventually dropped. In the early 1950s, Persico was recruited into the Profaci crime family, the forerunner of the Colombo family, by longtime capo Frank Abbatemarco. At first, Persico did bookmaking and loansharking, then moved into burglaries and hijackings. During this decade, Persico was arrested over 12 times but spent only a few days in jail. Persico also started working with Joe Gallo and his brothers, Albert and Lawrence.
In 1957, Persico allegedly participated in the murder of Albert Anastasia, the former leader of Murder, Inc. and the boss of what was then the Anastasia family. Anastasia's underboss Carlo Gambino wanted control of the family and conspired with his allies, Genovese family boss Vito Genovese and Profaci boss Joe Profaci, to kill Anastasia. Profaci allegedly gave the job to Persico and the Gallo brothers.
On October 25, 1957, Anastasia entered the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. As he relaxed in the barber chair, two men – scarves covering their faces – rushed in, shoved the barber out of the way, and fired at Anastasia. After the first volley of bullets, Anastasia allegedly lunged at his killers. However, the stunned Anastasia had actually attacked the gunmen's reflections in the wall mirror of the barber shop. The gunmen continued firing and finally killed Anastasia. No one was ever charged in the Anastasia killing, and there is an alternative theory that gunmen from the Patriarca crime family of New England performed the hit. In 1984, Persico allegedly boasted of the crime to a relative:
"The FBI knows who really hurt Anastasia. But that fag Crazy Joe Gallo took the credit."
By the late 1950s, Persico and the Gallos were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Profaci's leadership. Profaci demanded high tribute payments from family members and was viewed as a wealthy autocrat. The First Colombo War started on November 4, 1959, when Profaci's gunmen murdered Abbatemarco on a Brooklyn street. Abbatemarco had stopped paying tribute to Profaci earlier that year with the support of the Gallo faction. It is speculated that Carlo Gambino and Lucchese family boss Tommy Lucchese were encouraging the Gallos to challenge Profaci, their enemy. When Profaci took Abbatemarco's lucrative rackets away from the Gallos, the warfare began.
In February 1961, the Gallo faction kidnapped Profaci underboss Joseph Magliocco and capo Joseph Colombo. After several weeks of negotiation, the Gallos reached an agreement with Profaci and released the two captives. However, six months later, Profaci reneged on the deal, and war broke out again between the Gallos and the Profaci family.
Profaci, planning revenge, bribed Persico with lucrative rackets in exchange for switching sides against the Gallos. On August 12, 1961, Perisco met with Larry Gallo at the Sahara Lounge in Brooklyn to discuss war strategy. When Gallo arrived, Persico's men attacked him and Persico started strangling Gallo with a garrote. However, a passing policeman witnessed the attack, forcing Persico and his men to flee. Persico supposedly gained the nickname "Snake" from this act of treachery. He was indicted later that year for attempted murder of Gallo, but the charges were dropped when Gallo refused to testify.
On June 6, 1962, Profaci died of cancer and Magliocco became the new family boss. However, the war with the Gallo faction continued. In early 1963, the Gallos bombed Persico's car, but he escaped with minor injuries. On May 19, 1963, Gallo gunmen ambushed Persico in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn. A panel truck pulled alongside Persico's car and two men shot him in the face, hand, and shoulder. Persico reportedly spat out the bullet that had entered his face. Soon after this attempt on his life, Persico was imprisoned on extortion charges. By the fall of 1963, with Joey Gallo also imprisoned, the shooting war had ended with Magliocco the winner.
In late 1963, after an unsuccessful attempt to take over the Commission, Magliocco was forced out of the family. He was replaced by Colombo, who had alerted the Commission to Magliocco's plot. The Profaci crime family was now the Colombo crime family. In turn, Colombo rewarded the imprisoned Persico by naming him a capo.
After becoming capo, Persico was constantly on the streets. He was involved in labor racketeering, extortion, loansharking, hijacking, illegal gambling, and especially murder for hire. By the late 1960s, Persico's crew was one of the most profitable crews in the Colombo family. In 1968, Persico was convicted on federal hijacking charges after five separate trials dating back to 1960. On January 27, 1971, he was finally sent to prison on these charges, where he would spend eight years. The trial was noted for the only appearance of former mobster Joseph Valachi as a prosecution witness.
In February 1971, Joey Gallo was released from prison. On June 28, 1971, Colombo was shot and severely wounded at the second annual Italian-American Civil Rights League rally in Manhattan. The shooter, Jerome Johnson, was immediately shot to death by Colombo's bodyguards. Colombo survived in a paralyzed state until his death on May 22, 1978. Police concluded that Johnson was the sole shooter. Both law enforcement and the Mafia assumed Gallo had organized the hit; Gallo had built ties with black gangsters and, upon his release, threatened to start another gang war unless he received $100,000 compensation.
On November 11, 1971, Persico went on trial in state court on 37 counts of extortion, usury, coercion, and conspiracy, all stemming from a loansharking operation out of a Manhattan fur shop. On December 8, 1971, a jury acquitted Persico of all charges; all 12 prosecution witnesses said they could not identify Persico.
After the Colombo shooting, underboss Joseph Yacovelli assumed the role of acting boss. However, the Persico family essentially took control of the Colombos on the then-imprisoned Carmine's behalf, with Carmine himself coordinating the suppression of the Gallos. On April 7, 1972, Gallo was shot and killed by Persico gunmen as he was celebrating his birthday at Umberto's Clam House in Manhattan's Little Italy.
In 1973, Persico was imprisoned on hijacking and loansharking charges. His incarceration coincided with the release of his brother Alphonse from 17 years in prison. Persico designated Alphonse as acting boss with support from Gennaro Langella and Carmine's other brother, Theodore. In 1979, Carmine was released from federal prison.
On August 11, 1981, Persico pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge of attempting to bribe an IRS agent from 1977 through 1978 while in federal custody. The evidence included a recording of Persico offering the agent $250,000 in exchange for getting him an early release from prison. On November 9, 1981, Persico was sentenced to five years in federal prison.
On October 14, 1984, Persico and the rest of the Colombo family leadership were indicted on multiple racketeering charges as part of the "Colombo Trial". After the indictment was published, Persico went into hiding. On October 26, the FBI began a national manhunt for Perisco, and soon named him as the 390th fugitive to be added to their Ten Most Wanted list.
Persico hid in the home of his cousin, mob associate Fred DeChristopher, in Hemsted, New York. Unbeknownst to Perisco, DeChristopher had been relaying information to the FBI for the previous two years after being caught up in a sting operation, and had already informed the Bureau about Perisco's whereabouts. The FBI concocted the fake "manhunt" to shield DeChristopher, who would later provide damming testimony against Perisco as a key witness for the prosecution. Persico was arrested on February 15, 1985.
On July 2, Persico was indicted, along with other New York Mafia leaders, on a second set of racketeering charges as part of the Mafia Commission Trial. The prosecutors aimed to strike at all the crime families at once using their involvement in the Commission. According to Colombo hitman and FBI informant Gregory Scarpa, Persico and Gambino boss John Gotti backed a plan to kill the leading prosecutor and future New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani in late 1986, but it was rejected by the rest of the Commission.
At the start of the Commission trial, Persico decided to serve as his own lawyer. He believed that his history of convictions gave him sufficient experience to defend himself. His co-defendants vehemently disagreed with this decision, and the judge warned Persico that he would be waiving "incompetent counsel" as the grounds for an appeal. Persico received counsel from lawyers to help guide him when the prosecutors questioned him. He tried to project a friendly image to the jury and urged them to put aside any preconceptions about "the Mafia" or "Cosa Nostra", Many believe that Persico inadvertently sabotaged his own defense by acknowledging criminal activities during his cross-examinations of prosecution witnesses.
On June 14, 1986, Persico was convicted of racketeering in the Colombo Trial. On November 17, he was sentenced to 39 years in prison. The sentencing judge, John F. Keenan, nonetheless praised Persico's performance as his own lawyer in the Commission Trial and said, "Mr. Persico, you're a tragedy. You are one of the most intelligent people I have ever seen in my life." On November 19, Persico and the other Commission Trial defendants were convicted of all charges. On January 13, 1987, Keenan sentenced Persico to 100 years in prison, to run consecutively with his 39-year sentence in the Colombo trial.
New York Times organized-crime writer Selwyn Raab thought the Colombos were the most damaged by the trial, even though most of the top leaders of New York's Mafia families were sent to prison. In his book Five Families, Raab noted that Persico was only 53 years old at the time of the Commission Trial, even though he had already led the family for 14 years, and was the youngest boss in New York. Raab believed that Persico was "at the peak of his abilities," and potentially had a long reign ahead of him had he not been taken off the streets. By comparison, the other bosses would have likely passed the reins to men of Persico's generation even without the trial intervening. Persico was sent to United States Penitentiary near Marion, Illinois to serve his combined 139-year sentence.
By 2017, Perisco was in the medium-security Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, North Carolina. The facility has medical facilities for elderly inmates. Press reports indicate he has become friends with convicted fraudster Bernie Maddoff.
In June 1987, Persico ordered acting boss Joel Cacace to kill lawyer William Aronwald, a retired prosecutor who had allegedly been disrespectful to the Mafia. Cacace delegated the job to two hitmen who mistakenly killed Aronwald's father George. In response to outrage from the other New York families, Cacace recruited two more gunmen to kill the first hit team. After those murders were accomplished, Cacace killed the second set of gunmen. In 2004, Cacace would plead guilty to the Aronwald murder. No charges were filed against Carmine Persico.
Persico knew that it was unlikely he would ever again resume active control of the family. Even if his 100-year sentence in the Commission Trial had been overturned on appeal, his 39-year sentence in the Colombo Trial could have been tantamount to a life sentence at his age. Despite this, he was determined to keep power in his own hands—and with it, his stake in the Colombos' illicit earnings. With few exceptions, a boss keeps his title unless he dies or retires. Therefore, soon after his imprisonment, Persico named his brother, Allie Boy, as acting boss. Allie Boy didn't reign long, however; he was arrested for loansharking and skipped out on bail. Persico then named a three-man ruling panel to run the family. In 1988, he dissolved the panel and named Victor "Little Vic" Orena, a loyal capo from Brooklyn, as temporary acting boss. While giving Orena the power to induct members and order murders on his own authority—unusual for an acting boss—Persico made it clear that Orena was merely a placeholder until Persico's son Little Allie Boy was released from prison. Indeed, Persico picked Orena in part because he was the capo of Little Allie Boy's old crew.
In 1990, the government transferred Persico to what was then the United States Penitentiary in Lopoc, California. There, he established an Italian Cultural Club for the inmates. He socialized with people such as Patriarca family consigliere Joseph Russo and Lucchese family associate Anthony Senter. Persico formed the "Lompoc Four", a band in which Russo played guitar and Persico played drums.
By 1991, Orena had become disgruntled with the current leadership scheme and was tired of the constant stream of orders that he received from Persico in prison. He also grew to resent that he would have to turn over the family to Little Allie Boy. Gotti encouraged Orena's rebellion, since he and Persico had long been enemies, and went so far as to label Persico a "rat", the worst possible accusation for a Cosa Nostra figure.
In the spring of 1991, Orena made his move. He requested that consigliere Carmine Sessa quietly poll all the Colombo capos as to whom they wanted as boss. Orena believed that if he had enough support from the capos, it would strengthen his argument that the Commission should recognize Orena, not Persico, as the rightful leader of the family. However, Sessa instead told Persico about Orena's plot. Persico then allegedly ordered Sessa to lead a team to kill Orena. On June 20, Sessa took a five-man hit team and parked on the street close to Orena's residence on Long Island, waiting for his return home. As Orena drove down the street, he recognized the men in the car and quickly sped away. For the next several months, the Persico and Orena factions engaged in peace negotiations brokered by the Commission. Despite Persico's claim as the legitimate boss, the Commission refused to take sides in the Colombo conflict.
On November 18, 1991, the Third Colombo War started when Orena lieutenant William Cutolo sent a hit team to try to kill Scarpa, a Perisco loyalist, on a Brooklyn street. By the end of 1991, the two Colombo factions had traded several successful murder attempts. Responding to public outrage over the carnage, law enforcement threw resources into prosecuting the Colombo mobsters, resulting in 68 indictments, 58 convictions and 10 mobsters turning state's evidence. In December 1992, Orena was convicted of racketeering and murder, and was sentenced to life in prison, dissolving his belligerent faction and leaving the Persicos in control again.
With the end of the war with Orena, Persico had to set up another ruling structure for the family. Since Little Allie Boy was facing prosecution on new charges, Persico installed a ruling committee comprising his brother Theodore, mobster Joseph Baudanza, and Joseph Tomasello. In 1994, when Andrew Russo was released from prison, Persico disbanded the committee and designated Russo as acting boss. In 1996, Russo went to prison, and Persico replaced him with his son Little Allie Boy, who by now had been released from prison. In early 1999, with Alphonse in legal trouble, Persico made Cacace the acting boss.
However, later in 1999, either Carmine or Alphonse Persico ordered Cutolo's murder. The recently released Alphonse was facing new federal charges that threatened to send him back to prison, and the Persicos were worried about Cutolo seizing control of the family. On May 26, 1999, Alphonse ordered Cutolo to meet him at a Brooklyn Park. Cutolo was then taken to a mob associate's apartment and murdered, and his body was buried in Long Island. Police would not recover the remains until November 2008.
On December 20, 2001, Alphonse Persico pleaded guilty to the loansharking charges, accepted a 13-year prison sentence, and agreed to forfeit $1 million. On October 14, 2004, Alphonse was indicted on federal racketeering charges, including conspiring to murder Cutolo and Joe Campanella. No charges were filed against Carmine Persico. However, the Cutolo murder trial ended in a mistrial due to juror deadlock.
In 2004, with the conversion of Lompoc into a different correctional facility, the government transferred Carmine Persico to the Federal Correctional Complex, Butner, a medium secutity correctional facility in North Carolina.
On December 28, 2007, in a second trial, Alphonse Persico and DeRoss were convicted of Cutolo's murder. Like his father, Alphonse Persico was sentenced to life in prison.
As of 2011, Carmine Persico was still the official boss of the Colombo crime family. His street boss at the time was Andrew Russo, his official underboss Persico's former rival John Franzese, the acting underboss Benjamin Castellazzo, and the consigliere Richard Fusco.
In March 2010, the Reuters News Agency reported that Carmine Persico had been socializing in prison with convicted swindler Bernard Madoff. The New York Post further reported that Persico loves to play pinochle and bocce with other mobsters, and regale them with stories from his past.
As of September 2015, Persico was incarcerated at the Butner Medium FCI in Butner, North Carolina, with a projected release date of March 20, 2050—when he would be 117 years old. Raab wrote in Five Families that Persico's attempts to protect his own position and ensure that his son succeeded him nearly destroyed the Colombo family. By Raab's estimate, Persico's "deceitful schemes" led directly to 70 of his wiseguys' and associates' being sent to prison, as well as 12 deaths.