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FBI file of Nick Gentile

Nicola Gentile (June 12, 1885 - November 6, 1966)[1], also known as Nick Gentile, was a Sicilian mafioso and an organized crime figure in New York City during the 1920s and 30s. He was also known for publishing his memoirs which, violating the mafiosi code known as omerta, revealed many details of the Sicilian and American underworld. Gentile was born in Siculiana, a small village on the south coast of Sicily in the province of Agrigento. He immigrated to the United States arriving in New York at age 18, in 1903. Gentile fled the country in 1937 while out on US$ 15 000 bail after an arrest for heroin trafficking and returned to Sicily to become a boss in the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. In the US he was known as "Nick" and in Sicily as "Zu Cola" (Uncle Cola).


Arrival in the United States

After Nick Gentile arrived in the United States from Sicily in 1903 he quickly associated with the Black Hand during the early 1900s, Gentile would become a leader in America's early mafia and would later serve as a confidant for New York mobsters throughout the early part of the 20th century up until the Castellammarese War and the subsequent formation of New York's Five Families under Charles "Lucky" Luciano in 1931. Gentile traveled the country as a troubleshooter and negotiator, known as the messaggero or substituto, relaying messages between crime families and mediating disputes and became part of New York Mafia Family led by Vincent Mangano and Joe Biondo, which later became known as the Gambino Family.[2]

During Prohibition, Gentile was briefly involved in bootlegging as head of criminal syndicates in Kansas City, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. In 1920 there is an attempt made on Gentile's life by his rival in Cleveland, mafia boss Joseph "Big Joe" Lonardo. Gentile left for Sicily, but not before he met with his New York allies. He decided to align himself with New York mafia bosses Umberto "Rocco" Valenti and Salvatore Mauro against Salvatore "Totò" D'Aquila and Joe Lonardo who back mafia boss, Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria in his bid to gain control of the Morello crime family in which Rocco Valenti and Joe Masseria are both high level members.

Gentile returned to the United States after several months in Sicily. His allies Mauro and Valenti were gunned down by Masseria forces in 1920 and 1922 ending the conflict and making Joe Masseria one of the top mafia bosses in New York. Gentile continued his criminal career in New York now aligning himself with the group of Charles "Lucky" Luciano.[3] Gentile became involved with Luciano's narcotics operations. He was arrested in New Orleans in 1937 on drug charges. Soon after his arrest Gentile fled the country while out on US$ 15 000 bail and returned to Sicily.[4][5]

Return to Sicily

In Sicily, Gentile rose to a high level position in the Sicilian Mafia. Nick His power and influence grew after the invasion of Sicily in 1943 (Operation Husky as he helped the military set up its civil administration – the American Military Government of Occupied Territories (AMGOT) – in the Agrigento province. He became involved in intelligence and the Sicilian separatist movement. Later he became an important canvasser for politicians from the Christian Democrat party (DC – Democrazia Cristiana), who quarrelled for his support.[2] Gentile later supported Christian Democrat Giuseppe La Loggia, who would become president of the autonomous region of Sicily from 1956-58, and is the father of Enrico La Loggia, a member of Forza Italia and a minister in the second government of Silvio Berlusconi.

When Lucky Luciano was extradited to Italy in 1946 he once again teamed up with Gentile in organizing drug routes to the US. Gentile had very good connections with well-known drug traffickers in Sicily. His son was married to the daughter of Pietro Davì, one of the leading figures in cigarette smuggling and illicit drug trade in Palermo in the 1950s.[2] Gentile and Luciano met New York gangster Joe Biondo in 1949.[2] Biondo supervised the Gambino Family's heroin traffic.[6]

Gentile provided information to the KGB, through journalist Leonid Kolosov, during the Cold War[7] and remained a prominent figure in the Sicilian underworld throughout 1950s and 1960s. He was erroneously believed by some to have replaced Calogero Vizzini as the head of the Sicilian Mafia.[8]


Cover of Nicola Gentile memoirs "Vita Di Capomafia"

In 1963 Gentile wrote down his memoirs, "Vita Di Capomafia", with the help of Italian journalist Felice Chilanti. This forgotten book already describes the internal organization of the Mafia, or "l'onorata società" (the Honoured Society) as Gentile called it, more than 20 years before Tommaso Buscetta emerged as the imporatant first pentito who broke with omertà and told Cosa Nostra's inside story. Gentile was already more explicit than Buscetta in his first confessions. Gentile undiffidently talked about his links with politicians for whom he acted as a canvasser.

According to crime reporter Hank Messick a resentful Gentile confessed to the FBI. In fact his memoirs were for sale in every bookshop in Italy. The FBI used Gentile's information to corroborate the testimony of former mobster turned government informant Joe Valachi in 1963. The memoirs were shown to American Mafia turncoat Joe Valachi who vouched for its accuracy and said Gentile 'wrote just the way it is'.[5][9]

Gentile's fellow mafiosi didn't appreciate his candor and sentenced him to death, but the Catania Mafia clan who had to kill him declined to do so, according to pentito Antonio Calderone. At the end of his days, Gentile was a pitiful figure who only survived through the pasta which his neighbours gave him.[10][11]


  • (Italian) Gentile, Nick & Felice Chilanti (1963), Vito di capomafia, Rome: Editori Riuniti.


  1. ^ There are different dates of birth for Gentile. In the FBI file the year of birth is 1895, but in his biography the year is 1885. The date of death is uncertain, but this site Nicola Gentile, on La Cosa Nostra Database claims it to be 1966
  2. ^ a b c d The Rothschilds of the Mafia on Aruba, by Tom Blickman, Transnational Organized Crime, Vol. 3, No. 2, Summer 1997
  3. ^ (Italian) Chilanti, Vito di capomafia, p. 15
  4. ^ (Italian) Chilanti, Vito di capomafia, p. 151-53
  5. ^ a b Messick, Lansky, p.49
  6. ^ Davis, Mafia Dynasty, p.101
  7. ^ KGB spies' book reveals stories behind espionage, Associated Press, October 1, 1998
  8. ^ Lewis, The Honoured Society, p. 146
  9. ^ Mafioso's memoirs support Valachi’s testimony, New York Times, April 11, 1971
  10. ^ (Italian) Arlacchi, Gli uomini del disonore, p. 158
  11. ^ Dickie, Cosa Nostra, p. 231.
  • (Italian) Arlacchi, Pino (1992). Gli uomini del disonore. La mafia siciliana nella vita del grande pentito Antonio Calderone, Milan: Mondadori ISBN 88-04-35326-0
  • (Italian) Caruso, Alfio (2000). Da cosa nasce cosa. Storia della mafia del 1943 a oggi, Milan: Longanesi ISBN 88-304-1620-7
  • Davis, John H. (1993). Mafia Dynasty. The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Crime Family, New York: HarperCollins
  • Dickie, John (2004). Cosa Nostra. A history of the Sicilian Mafia, London: Coronet, ISBN 0-340-82435-2
  • Lewis, Norman (1964/2003). The Honoured Society: The Sicilian Mafia Observed, London: Eland, ISBN 0-907871-48-8
  • Messick, Hank (1973). Lansky. London: Robert Hale & Company, ISBN 0-7091-3966-7
  • Scott, Peter Dale (1993). Deep Politics and the Death of JFK. Berkeley: University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-08410-1

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