Joseph “Joe Cago” Valachi was an enforcer for the Maranzano Crime Family and worked under Vito Genovese. “Lucky” Luciano would later become the boss of the crime family and was succeeded Genovese, when Luciano was deported back to Italy. He is also the first mobster to break “omerta” and live to tell about it. Omerta is the Mafia’s word for “code of silence”. Joe was arrested in 1959 on a narcotics charge. While in federal prison in Atlanta, he was a cellmate of Vito Genovese.
While in prison, Joe Valachi received the “kiss of death” from Vito Genovese because Genovese thought that Valachi was an informer. He wasn’t, not yet. Valachi beat a man to death with a metal pipe because he thought the man, Joe Saupp, was Joe Beck (DiPalermo). Beck was the man that Valachi said was to carry out the order to kill him. Joe Valachi received a life sentence for this killing. It was then that Joe Valachi decided to testify against the Mafia and its inner workings in order to receive leniency. In 1963, Joe Valachi testified before the McClellan Committee.
The McClellan Committee was named after Arkansas Senator John L. McClellan and was formed to investigate unfair and illegal Union labor practices. John F. Kennedy was on the committee along with Barry Goldwater and was chaired by Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Although no one was directly arrested from Valachi’s testimony, when it was all said and done, Joe Valachi had named over three hundred people who were in the Mafia.
Author Peter Maas interviewed Valachi for his upcoming book, The Valachi Papers and in it Joe Valachi tells the story of how he became to be known as Joe Cago. Valachi said that as a young boy, he would build makeshift scooters for people and this earned him the nickname of “Joey Cargo”. He would say it was corrupted into Joey Cago by his mob friends. However, if you ask any former member of the mob around Valachi, they would tell you it’s because they didn’t really like him all that much and that “cago” is a word that means excrement.
Thanks to the raid on a house in Appalachin, N.Y. and the testimony of Joseph Valachi, F.B.I director J. Edgar Hoover could no longer say the fact that the American Mafia does not exist. It did, and does, in fact exist and that it would be a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of violence, murder and other crimes.
Joe Valachi died in 1971 of a heart attack, having outlived Vito Genovese by two months. The book, The Valachi Papers by Peter Maas was published in 1968.