Genovese crime family underboss Venero Mangano had a long and distinguished career. Two careers, actually. And in both he proved he had a sharp mind and balls of steel. He also showed one could live a long life and die of old age where most of his comrades died violently by bombs and bullets.
Born on September 7, 1921, Mangano was nicknamed “Benny Eggs” because of his mother’s egg store. Growing up in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village in New York City, Mangano became a true neighborhood guy, knowing all the old-timers, beat cops, players, hustlers, and crazies.
And all the mobsters too.
But before he could devote his life to crime and omerta, he found another calling: Killing Nazis. When the German forces of Adolf Hitler threatened the United States after already tearing through Europe and the Middle East in the Second World War, Mangano stepped up as so many young Americans did during those years.
He enlisted, became a tail gunner and flew 33 missions, including two bombing runs on D-Day. His heroic actions earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross and an air medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters and three Battle Stars.
Young Benny Eggs came home a bona fide war hero. The neighborhood was proud of their boy and the local mob was paying attention to this cool-headed fella with a killer instinct.
He became a member of the Genovese crime family. One of New York’s five families of La Cosa Nostra, The American Mafia. It was one of the most powerful crime organizations in the United States with a firm grip on unions and lucrative rackets in the city and beyond.
Mangano was close to future Genovese boss Vincent “Chin” Gigante, another neighborhood native, who was known for his crazy behavior. He walked around in his pajamas and mumbled to himself or imaginary people and things. It was all a ruse to outsmart the FBI and authorities. Better yet, it worked!
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Still, Gigante needed a lot of help from his disciplined crew. If any other mobsters discussed Gigante or his activities and mentioned him by name, his whole act would quickly be debunked. That is why he ordered his underlings and colleagues never to mention his name, but stroke their chins with their thumb, forefinger and middle finger when referring to him. When doing so they could say “this guy” or “my aunt.”
His good friend Mangano was eager to oblige to protect his lifelong friend. A Genovese family associate who was unfamiliar with protocol was told by him: “Don't mention that guy.” He also told the uninformed gangster that if anyone asked about Gigante, he should answer: “Vincent’s crazy.”
Mangano’s protective and caring streak extended beyond his friend and boss. He ran a social club on Thompson Street where he permitted old-timers, most of them not affiliated with organized crime, to play cards and socialize. “The place was bedecked with American flags and photos of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, and other Italian-American entertainers and celebrities,” Selwyn Raab writes in his book Five Families.
Though he was a war hero who looked out for his neighborhood friends, Mangano was also a hardcore gangster. He was involved in various illegal schemes like extortion and gambling. As a front, he also owned M&J Enterprises, a legitimate business that purchased leftover designer clothing and resold it to other businesses in the United States and overseas. Mangano also had a piece of the carnival amusement games at the annual Feast of San Gennaro in the Little Italy section of Manhattan.
His crimes caught up with him in 1991, when he was found guilty of racketeering in the “Windows Case.” This racket revolved around the installment of new windows in city housing projects and made the participants tens of millions of dollars.
The money was so good, that it made those involved greedy and hungry for more. During a sit-down at Ruggiero’s Restaurant on June 5, 1989, Mangano discussed the scheme with Lucchese family leader Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso and Gambino family leader Peter Gotti. Both families wanted a bigger piece of the pie, but Mangano was having none of it. “It’s all ours,” he told them. “Nobody’s supposed to touch it.”
While behind bars serving his sentence, in 1997 prosecutors called Mangano as a witness to answer questions about his boss Vincent Gigante. An agitated Mangano was defiant on the stand and refused to answer any questions.
“What do you want to do? Shoot me? Shoot me, but I'm not going to answer any questions,” he told the court. “I'm tired of these charades.” While on the stand, he even refused to admit how he got his nickname. The aging wiseguy went back to prison and was released on November 2, 2006.
Back on the streets, Mangano allegedly served on a rotating panel of mob veterans in charge of the Genovese crime family. On August 18, 2017, he passed away of natural causes at his home in Greenwich Village, the neighborhood he grew up in and where he had lived all his life. He was 95 years old.
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