The East Harlem Purple Gang was a tightly connected group of at least 127 Italian-American drug dealers from Pleasant Avenue in Italian Harlem, and the Bronx, during the 1970s. Many members became Lucchese and Genovese family mobsters, including Daniel Leo, and Angelo Prisco. The Purple Gang was not exclusively Italian-American. They used the toughest, smartest and best street thugs from any ethnic group. The leaders, however, were of Italian origin and were marked by various families to become made members of La Cosa Nostra when the membership books were opened.
Bobby Germaine, a close associate of Jimmy Burke, familiar to most as "Jimmy Conway," in the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas -- and by proxy supergrass Henry Hill was an influential member. You can even make a leap and consider The Purple Gang the modern extension of the 107th Street Mob which held among its ranks such Mammasantisima as Frank Costello (Castigila), Vito Genovese, John Ormento and an early Federal Bureau of Narcotics informant Eugenio Gianinni. Mr. Gianinni was shot and dumped on 109th street after attempting to gather evidence of the FBN's "Moby Dick," Lucky Luciano, and his involvement in the international heroin traffic.
Carmine (Gribbs) Tramunti was the LCN overseer of the Purple Gang during the late 1960s. Gribbs was the front boss of the Lucchese clan after Gaetano Lucchese died in 1967. Many believe that Paul Vario of Brooklyn was the real boss until Anthony Corallo took the helm in or around 1973.
Dominic Cirillo, Il Messagario of the Genovese Family, a position that calls for the maintenance of the relationship between Genovese's and the Outfit of Chicago, was also very close with the Purple Gang. Mr. Cirillo did a prison stretch for heroin trafficking in the early 1960s. The aforementioned Carmine Tramunti also served a federal prison sentence for heroin.
The Colombo crime family also had its hand in the Purple pot. In 1983, the Colombo's were running a heroin operation based in Hell's Kitchen's northern edge in concert with the Purple Gang and the Irish locals, mythologized as "The Westies." 9th Avenue and 49th street during the mid to late 1980s and 37th street between 6th and 7th avenues (dealers would stand in doorways that led to garment district sweat shops) were the street outlet points for this alliance. In addition to heroin ($10 a bag), nickel (5 dollar) bags of cocaine were also sold.
In the early to mid 1980s the Purple Gang acquired the moniker "The Sixth Family." This highly complimentary claim was also used to describe the renegade Profaci/Colombo Gallo Crew, led by Larry, Albert and the infamous Joey in the early 1970s. It has also been used in recent years when referring to the Sicilian Mafia cosca operating in Montreal, Canada, led by the Rizzutos. Once again, heroin is the source of the Rizzuto's income and hence, power.
The Purples, much like the fabled Murder, Inc., took care of "heavy work" (internecine murders) for all five families.
When cocaine became a big money maker in the late 1970s, the Purple Gang formed strong ties with the Contras in Nicaragua, trading military grade weapons for the potent powder.
Crack cocaine was the downfall of the Purple Gang. Their spots around 122nd Street and Second Avenue were gold mines, yet many younger members and associates began to use drugs themselves, and their credibility faded fast.