Gennaro Langella, a high-ranking member of the US mafia, has died while serving a 100-year prison sentence for racketeering and extortion.
The 74-year-old, widely known as ‘Gerry Lang’ by investigators, mafia experts and his fellow gangsters, died on Sunday at the US Medical Center for Prisons in Missouri – a hospital designed for federal inmates.
Already in prison for mafia crimes, Langella was convicted as the underboss of New York’s notorious Colombo crime family in 1986, during a trial that has gone done as one of the most important in the history of American organised crime.
During the famous Mafia Commission Trial, Langella was found guilty alongside seven other mafiosi, including Anthony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno and Anthony ‘Tony Ducks’ Corallo – leaders of the Genovese and Lucchese crime families respectively.
Also convicted was Langella’s Colombo crime family boss - the already incarcerated Carmine ‘The Snake’ Persico, who made the fatal and occasionally embarrassing error of trying to defend himself at the trial.
Prosecutors were able to build a case that successfully convinced the jury that the eight defendants were members of a “commission” that had overseen all mafia business in the United States since the early 1930s.
The trial lasted 10 weeks, and all eight defendants were found guilty in November 1986. The following year, seven of the defendants, including Langella, were sentenced to 100 years in prison for their crimes.
At the time, chief prosecutor, Michael Chertoff, said the group were “directing the largest and most vicious criminal business in the history of the United States.”
Rudy Giuliani, then a high-profile anti-mafia lawyer, said: “The verdict reached today has resulted in dismantling the ruling council of La Cosa Nostra.”
Langella was born on 20 December 1938 to first generation immigrant parents who’d come to the US from the Campania region of Italy.
Growing up in Carroll Gardens area of New York, Langella was a close associate of his cousin and future boss Persico, who was five years his senior and already leader of the Garfield Boys (later renamed the South Brooklyn Boys) – a teenage street gang that terrorised New York’s Bensonhurst neighbourhood.
Langella was officially “made” into the Colombo crime family in early 1976 and quickly climbed the ranks thanks to his close relationship with Persico, acting on his boss’ behalf when Persico was jailed in the early 1970s and again in the early 1980s.
He was later named the Colombos’ official underboss – a second-in-command role in the family’s leadership structure and often the only person with truly incriminating evidence on otherwise well-shielded family leaders.
Before the Mafia Commission Trial, Langella had been sentenced to 65 years in prison in another racketeering prosecution. The judge ruled that the sentences could run concurrently, but for all intents and purposes they amounted to whole life terms.
The renowned crime writer and New York Times investigative reporter Selwyn Raab once described Langella is less than flattering terms, saying he was a “...a ruthless arrogant loan shark and drug trafficker. His speech was peppered with expletives. “
Raab went on to say: “He was considered a vain clotheshorse and unlike more contemporary Hollywood gangster attire he favoured double breasted blazers, sporty open collar shirts and wrap-around sunglasses. He was a regular patron of the Casa Sorta restaurant in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn where he would hold meetings with associates”.
In an obituary published by the Staten Island Advance newspaper, Langella’s niece Donna said: “He was very good-hearted, generous, and helpful to family and friends… [he] enjoyed playing cards and spending time with his family”.
Langella’s funeral will be held on Saturday morning in Brooklyn.