Vincent Gigante: The Oddfather’s Intriguing Life Explored

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Vincent Gigante, famously known as “The Chin” or “The Oddfather,” remains a compelling figure in the annals of American organized crime. His reign as one of the most powerful crime bosses was characterized by a unique blend of cunning and ruthlessness, cloaked under an elaborate guise of insanity. Gigante’s journey from his humble beginnings to his notorious leadership of the Genovese crime family is a testament to his strategic mind and unyielding resolve.

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Vincent Gigante was born in 1928 in the Lower East Side of New York City, an area known for its dense population of Italian immigrants. He was the youngest of five children in a family struggling to make ends meet. His parents, Salvatore and Yolanda Gigante, worked hard to provide for their family despite their poverty. Salvatore, a laborer, emphasized the importance of hard work and education to his sons, including Vincent, who attended Catholic school and performed well academically despite his rebellious tendencies.

At the age of 16, Gigante left high school to pursue a career as a professional boxer. Between 1944 and 1947, he competed in the light heavyweight division under the nickname “The Chin,” a moniker derived from his mother’s thick Italian accent pronouncing his name as “Chinzenzo.” Despite his promising start, winning 21 of his 25 matches, his career in the ring was short-lived. However, his life outside the spotlight was about to take a dramatic turn.

Gigante’s introduction to the criminal underworld came through his association with Vito Genovese, a powerful mafia boss who took the young man under his wing. Genovese endeared himself to Gigante by paying for a medical procedure for his mother, solidifying Gigante’s loyalty. Under Genovese’s mentorship, Gigante became involved in a range of illegal activities, from petty thefts to more serious crimes. By the age of 25, he had been arrested seven times but managed to evade serious charges, showcasing his knack for avoiding law enforcement.

By his late 20s, Gigante had earned a reputation as a reliable enforcer within the Genovese crime family. His criminal career was on an upward trajectory, and his loyalty to Genovese remained unwavering. This loyalty was tested in 1957 when Genovese ordered a hit on Frank Costello, the then-boss of the Genovese family. The move was motivated by Genovese’s ambition and frustration over being passed over for leadership by Charles “Lucky” Luciano, who had chosen Costello as his successor before being deported to Italy.

On April 7, 1957, Costello was shot as he entered his apartment building in Manhattan. Despite being hit, Costello survived and refused to identify his assailant, although a doorman’s testimony pointed to Gigante. Although Gigante was arrested, the charges were eventually dropped due to insufficient evidence. This incident effectively forced Costello into retirement, allowing Genovese to ascend to power.

Despite his involvement in high-profile crimes, Gigante continued to evade long-term incarceration until 1959, when both he and Genovese were convicted of heroin trafficking. Gigante served seven years, while Genovese received a 14-year sentence and died in prison in 1969. After his release, Gigante’s influence within the mafia continued to grow, culminating in his promotion to capo, or captain, within the Genovese family.

As Gigante’s power increased, so did law enforcement scrutiny. In response, he devised an elaborate ruse to feign mental illness, hoping to deflect attention and avoid prosecution. Starting in 1969, Gigante began to display bizarre behavior, wandering the streets of Greenwich Village in a bathrobe, mumbling to himself, and engaging in public urination. This act earned him the nickname “The Oddfather.”

Gigante’s deception was supported by his family, particularly his brother Louis, a Catholic priest who vouched for his mental state. Over the years, Gigante was admitted to psychiatric hospitals multiple times, building a substantial record of mental health issues that he used to avoid legal consequences. This facade allowed him to continue orchestrating criminal activities behind the scenes, expanding the Genovese family’s operations in loan sharking, extortion, and bid-rigging.

Under Gigante’s leadership, the Genovese crime family became one of the largest and most profitable mafia organizations in the United States, generating nearly $100 million annually at its peak. His careful management and the elaborate deception of his mental state allowed him to maintain control and evade law enforcement for decades.

However, Gigante’s charade began to crumble in the 1990s. In 1990, he and 14 others were indicted on charges of bid-rigging involving contracts from the New York City Housing Authority. The indictment revealed that the Genovese family had manipulated bids for 75% of the $191 million in window contracts awarded between 1978 and 1990. Further charges in 1993 accused Gigante of conspiring to murder several mob figures, including John Gotti, the Gambino family boss.

Despite his attorneys’ efforts to present fabricated evidence of his mental incompetence, Gigante was eventually convicted in 1997 on charges of racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison, where he continued to manage the Genovese family until 2003. In a surprising turn of events, Gigante finally admitted to feigning mental illness as part of a plea deal to reduce his sentence.

Vincent Gigante died in 2005 while still serving his prison sentence. His death marked the end of a criminal career that spanned decades and left an indelible mark on organized crime in America. His life and actions have been depicted in various films, television shows, and music, cementing his legacy in popular culture.

The HBO series “The Sopranos” and Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” reference Gigante’s notorious behavior and influence. The Netflix series “Ozark” also mentions him as a powerful mob boss. His life has inspired numerous songs, including tracks by the Wu-Tang Clan and The Notorious B.I.G., highlighting his lasting impact on both crime and culture.

Vincent Gigante’s legacy is a testament to his cunning, strategic mind, and ability to manipulate both the underworld and the legal system. His story serves as a stark reminder of the complexities and challenges of tackling organized crime, even in the face of elaborate deceptions and ruthless leadership.

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