Frank Costello: Prime Minister of the Underworld

He Referred to Judges as "My Boys"

Senate Hearings
New York Times Co/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Born: "Francesco Castiflia" in Lauropoli, Calabria, Italy, January 20, 1891.

1895: Came to America with his family and settled in East Harlem (then a ghetto).

His Early Years

  • By the age of 13, Frank (whose name was changed by this time) was part of a street gang.
  • At age 14, Frank robbed his landlady wearing a handkerchief as a mask. Recognized, the landlady informed the police. Frank made up an alibi and avoided arrest.
  • In 1908 and 1912, he was charged with assault and robbery but charges were dropped in both cases.
  • At the age of 24, Frank was caught carrying a gun, and sentenced to prison for a year.


  • Costello, Lucky Luciano, and Meyer Lansky became friends and formed a criminal business dealing in bootlegging and gambling.
  • His was best known for his ability to befriend the right people (police, judges and politicians) in order to "fix" criminal activity to avoid prosecution.
  • He earned the name "Prime Minister of the Underworld" for his ability to deal with those in position who were susceptible to bribery.


  • By the 1930s, the three had become instrumental to the formation of the national crime syndicate.
  • In June 1936, Lucky Luciano was sent to prison, and Costello was named as "Acting Boss" and Vito Genovese, as the Underboss.


  • The early 1940s prospered with expanded businesses and powerful friends, with Costello now in charge.
  • In 1946, Genovese returned from Italy, and Luciano was deported. Genovese resented the power Costello had developed over the 8 years of his absence.


  • During the 1950s, Costello faced the Kefauver Committee, a committee put together to investigate organized crime. The exposure had a negative impact on Costello and his reputation as "the fixer."
  • In 1952, he was convicted for contempt of the senate, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He served from August 1952 until early October 1953 (approximately 15 months).
  • In April of 1954, he was found guilty of tax evasion and sentenced to 5 years in prison.

    In May 1956, Costello was convicted again, but appealed the conviction, and was released on bond pending the court's decision.

  • In 1957, as an attempt to take over the crime family and regain his position and power, Genovese arranged an assassination of Costello, which failed. Vincent "Chin" Gigante was said to have been the failed hit man.

Costello Steps Down

  • Costello, more involved in avoiding deportation by the federal government, for tax evasion and contempt, he decided to step down from the family, and Vito Genovese, appointed himself boss.
  • Costello, Lansky, and Luciano plotted the demise of Genovese by involving him in a narcotics scheme with the help of Gambino. Once Genovese was in a completely compromising position with the narcotics, they tipped off the authorities, and Genovese was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Frank Costello died of natural causes in a hospital, on February 18, 1973.