BY JOHN F. MORRISON, Daily
SALVATORE J. Avena, a highly regarded South Jersey lawyer for 63 years, specializing in personal injury and criminal cases and as a counselor to police organizations, could not shake his identification in the press as a "mob lawyer."
"It's unfair," said Richard L. Friedman, his partner in a Camden law firm. "I'd say over the years no more than 3 percent of his practice involved mobsters."
But Avena's legal representation of leaders of the Philadelphia-South Jersey organized crime family and his own indictment in 1996 on racketeering and related charges branded him as the lawyer for the mob.
And then there was the fact that Avena's father, John "Big Nose" Avena, was a mob boss murdered by rival gang members on Aug. 18, 1936, leading some to a like-father-like-son conclusion.
Salvatore was 10 when his father was murdered.
Salvatore Avena, onetime deputy New Jersey attorney general, a Cinnaminson Township committeeman and public safety director, an Army veteran and devoted father and grandfather, died Monday. He was 87 and lived in Mount Laurel, N.J.
He was acquitted of the racketeering charge in U.S. District Court in May 1996, by a jury that was deadlocked on other charges. That October, the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to retry him.
During the proceedings in federal court, it was revealed that the FBI tapped Avena's Camden law office for two years to record conversations among Avena, his client, John Stanfa, and other mob figures who met there.
Over the years, Avena represented Angelo Bruno, the "gentle don," who was murdered on March 21, 1980, and Philip "Chicken Man" Testa, who was killed by a nail bomb on his front porch on March 15, 1981. Stanfa was convicted of racketeering and other charges in March 1994 and sentenced to five consecutive life sentences.
Avena was an unlikely figure to be connected with violent criminals. He was always courtly and was more like a favorite uncle than a hard-charging defense lawyer.
He was active in numerous charities, especially those involving youth sports. He was also active in supporting the Scheie Eye Institute, having been a patient of Dr. Harold G. Scheie in the '80s. He and his late wife, Francine, attended most fundraising parties for the institute.
"He was a wonderful lawyer," said Friedman. "In his day, he was one of the best trial lawyers for personal injury and criminal cases."
When Avena opened his office in Camden, people on the Philly side of the Delaware "heard about this bright young lawyer," and came over to see him.
"He was always concerned about others," Friedman said. "When people came to see how he was doing, he would always ask them about themselves and their families. That's the kind of man he was."
Celeste Morello, author of a number of books on the Philadelphia mob, interviewed Avena for information about his father for one of her books.
"He had very good memories of his father," she said. "His father used to give him those Big Little books, read the Sunday comics to him and take him to the shore."
When his father was murdered, the family was living in Philadelphia. After the killing, his mother, Grace, moved to Palmyra, N.J. Salvatore attended high school there and went on to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., and Dickinson Law School, from which he received his law degree in 1950.
Morello said Avena emphasized to her that he never received any favors from mobsters. He did everything on his own, he said.
He worked his way through college as a restaurant bus boy and picked produce on South Jersey farms.
His wife, the former Francine Marino, died in September 2012 at the age of 80.
His daughter, Gracia Profaci, is married to Joseph Profaci, son of Salvatore Profaci, a leader of the Columbo crime family in New York. He also is survived by a son, Salvatore J. Jr., and six grandchildren. He was predeceased by a son, John A.M. Avena.
Services: A Funeral Mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday at St. Charles Borromeo Church, 2500 Branch Pike, Cinnaminson, N.J., for Salvatore J. Avena, Camden lawyer who died Monday at the age of 87. Friends may call at 3 p.m. Sunday and 8 a.m. Monday at the Mount Laurel Home for Funerals, 212 Ark Rd., Mount Laurel, N.J.
The funeral information was incorrect in his obituary in the Daily News yesterday.
" (? — 2001 ): Syndicate
Vincent Alo, nicknamed Jimmy Blue Eyes, was a
giant among mafiosi, a sort of Paul Bunyan in organ-
ized crime. The Mafia is a society of myth builders
and above all myth believers. One of the more aston-
ishing myths held among low-level mafiosi (the
higher-ups have always known better) is that Alo
was the boss over Meyer Lansky, the Jewish criminal
mastermind who together with Lucky Luciano set up
organized crime in America as we know it today.
Alo was a close, lifelong friend of Lansky's, but his
mythical elevation over Lansky is attributable solely
to the psyche of the Mafia's lower levels, where it is
important to believe that Italians are superior in all
matters and always in control. After all, it was the
exclusive privilege of Italians to be mafiosi. (These
lowly soldiers were convinced accordingly that Lan-
sky could not vote at mob confabs because he was
Jewish. In fact Lansky voted from a position of
power; his word often carried the force of law. When
Luciano in exile in Italy once thought of allowing a
motion picture of his life to be made, Mafia couriers
brought word to forget the project. Their clincher:
"The Little Man [Lansky] says so.")
Some of the most famous informers to come out
of the Mafia also perpetrated the Alo myth, thereby
confirming that their disclosures were from a low-
level view in organized crime. In My Life in the
Mafia Vinnie Teresa says of Alo: "He's got one job
in life. He's the mob's watchdog. He watches Lan-
sky to make sure he doesn't short shrift the crime
bosses." Significantly, Teresa has to add: "He pro-
tects Lansky from any mob guy who thinks he can
shake Lansky down. Anyone in the mob who had
any ideas about muscling Lansky would have
Jimmy Blue Eyes on his back in a second." In The
Last Mafioso Jimmy "the Weasel" Fratianno quotes
and believes the word from higher-ups that "Meyer
makes no move without clearing it with Jimmy Blue
The fact is that Alo always functioned as a liaison
between Lansky and the various crime families.
Everyone knew that because of Lansky's friendship
and trust in Alo, he could be relied on and that he
always bore the true word and orders of Lansky.
Because of his warm feelings for Alo, Lansky took
care of him, allowed him part ownership in various
gambling enterprises in Florida and Las Vegas. After
all, they had been youthful allies in crime. In 1930
Meyer's wife Anna gave birth to a son who was born
a cripple. Anna Lansky suffered a breakdown over
this and blamed her husband for calling down the
wrath of God on the child to punish him for his
wicked way of life.
It was too much for Lansky and he fled New York
for a hideout in Boston where he drank himself into
oblivion. Only his buddy Jimmy Blue Eyes was with
him, consoling him and helping through his week-
long crisis. Finally, Lansky came out of it, and he and
Alo drove back to the New York gang wars.
Since that time Alo prospered under Lansky or, as
an investigation by Robert M. Morgenthau when he
was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New
York demonstrated, Lansky closely guarded the inter-
ests of Jimmy Blue Eyes. Morgenthau never did nail
Lansky but, in 1970, he had the satisfaction of seeing
Alo go to prison for obstructing justice. U.S. attorney
Gary Naftalis informed the court: "Alo is one of the
most significant organized crime figures in the United
States. He is closely associated with Meyer Lansky of
Miami, who is at the apex of organized crime."
In the final analysis, the true pecking order in the
Lansky-Alo alliance can be seen in the ultimate rat-
ing system used by the mob — money. When Lansky
died in 1983, his personal net worth was placed at
between $300 and $400 million. Alo could barely
qualify as a mere millionaire.
(1920-1988): Defense lawyer
Maliciously called "the mob's best legal friend" and
"the Burglar's Lobby in Washington," Edward Ben-
nett Williams through the years defended mob fig-
ures like Frank Costello and mob-connected
individuals like Jimmy Hoffa. Yet attorney Williams
was never deterred. As he once put it, "I'm called the
Burglar's Lobby in Washington because I defend peo-
ple like Frank Costello. The Sixth Amendment of the
Constitution guarantees the right of legal counsel to
everyone. It does not say to everyone except people
like Frank Costello."
Williams was responsible for a number of land-
mark decisions concerning organized crime, one
being a 6-2 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court over-
turning an order to deport Costello. In another
famous case Williams took on police investigators
engaged in illegal eavesdropping. The case involved
three gamblers who ran a $40,000-a-day mob-con-
nected sports betting parlor in a row house on 21st
Street, N.W, in Washington, D.C. Police entered the
house next door and drove a spike into the common
wall between the houses. The spike, part of an elec-
tronic listening setup, was inserted into a duct, turn-
ing the entire heating system into a sort of
microphone. The police gathered records of scores of
conversations involving betting transactions. The
gamblers were convicted and sentenced to long terms
in prison. Williams took over their appeal and
argued before the Supreme Court that the eavesdrop-
ping had been "more subtle and more scientifically
advanced than wiretapping," and constituted gross
violation of the rights of the defendants against
unreasonable searches and seizures. Williams insisted
the tactic differed little from the police crashing into
a house in the middle of the night without a search
warrant. The Supreme Court agreed and threw out
Williams long spoke out against the extension of
congressional investigative committees' powers, to
what he considered "the legislative lynch." He said,
"When Estes Kefauver first ran roughshod over the
rights of hoodlums in 1950, the country was amused.
Then the leftist intellectuals, who didn't spring to the
defense of the hoodlums, found that their turn was
next. While this was going on, labor thought it was
funny, but they soon discovered that they were being
Once, after Robert Kennedy, a longtime friend of
Williams, became attorney general, Kennedy went
after Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. He was so con-
fident that he said he'd "jump off the Capitol
dome" if he lost the case. After Williams got Hoffa
acquitted, Williams offered to provide Kennedy
with a parachute. It marked the end of a beautiful
Many federal prosecutors despised Williams for
thwarting their attempts to jail organized-crime fig-
ures. Williams's supporters see his role as being the
defense attorney who is vital not so much to his
client, but to the entire criminal justice system — a
defendant without the best possible protection weak-
ens the entire structure of justice.
This view was countered by Rudolph Giuliani,
who as a federal prosecutor for Manhattan in the
1980s spearheaded the general federal assault on the
Mafia. He said in a newspaper interview: "I don't
socialize with mob lawyers. When I was in private
practice, I wouldn't represent mob people. I didn't
mind representing businessmen who might be
charged with something. That's someone who has a
largely legitimate aspect to their lives, and if they get
in trouble, whether innocent or guilty, there's still
some good to them. Organized crime figures are ille-
gitimate people who would go on being illegitimate
people if I got them off."
Williams's position — all defendants deserve equal
opportunity of legal representation — and Giu-
liani's — the defense lawyer serves as a sort of judge
of his clients — are the philosophies between which
all students and practitioners of the law must make
(1886-1962): New York police
One of the most ineffective police commissioners in
New York City's history, to take a most charitable
view, was Grover Whalen, remembered today as "the
Official Greeter of New York City" and originator of
the city's celebrated ticker-tape parades. In fact,
Whalen presided over the most corrupt years of the
police department since before the Great War.
From the very first day in his police post, Whalen
started acting in the mob's best interest. In later
years, neither Lucky Luciano nor Frank Costello
made much of a secret that Whalen had always been
in their hip pocket. In fact, $20,000 a week was said
to have been delivered in a trusty, plain paper bag to
the commissioner's office at police headquarters. The
charge was never proven, but the amount does seem
in line with any measure of compensation for value
In 1928, Whalen, general manager of New York's
John Wanamaker department store, was tapped by
the corrupt Jimmy Walker as police commissioner.
Whalen was reluctant at first to accept, but John
Wanamaker officials, urged by the mayor, promised
Whalen that if he took the post, his $100,000-a-year
salary from the store would continue as a supple-
ment to his city pay.
Within six hours of taking office, Whalen started
serving the underworld. First, he abolished the police
confidential squad, which unearthed police corrup-
tion and political malfeasance. Next, he busted its
commander, Lewis J. Valentine, back to his civil-serv-
ice rank of lieutenant and transferred him to the
wilds of Long Island City. It had long been the habit
of police watchers to gauge a New York police
administration's honesty and devotion to duty by
how it treated Valentine, a rigidly honest cop who
attacked the mobs and crooked police with equal fer-
Commissioner Whalen had made it clear which
way he was taking the department that first day.
During the ensuing period the mob operated with
more impunity than at any other time until the reign
of William O'Dwyer after World War II.
Whalen's administration represented, for instance,
the heyday of the slot machine racket with special
"police stickers." Under the aegis of Costello, the
mob set up slot machines all over the city (some with
special stools so that little schoolchildren could get
high enough to feed in coins), all with colored stick
ers that informed the local police that the machine
was a legitimate graft payer. If a machine failed to
have a sticker, it was subject to police seizure, and
the sticker colors were changed frequently to prevent
freelance operators from counterfeiting them. A
police officer who made the mistake of interfering
with a mob machine could expect to be transferred
to the outer edges of the city, inevitably far away
from his home. The system was extremely well
known to policemen in the city as well as to every
journalist, and there was no way it could continue
without an okay from the commissioner's office.
With Whalen's record of doing right with the mob
there is little reason to doubt the story of Costello,
who handled police payoffs for the syndicate,
informing Luciano once: "Yesterday, around noon,
Whalen called me. He was desperate for thirty grand
to cover his margin [on the stock market]. What
could I do? I hadda give it to him. We own him."
Whalen's administration permitted the Luciano-
Lansky-Costello combination to accumulate the
money and power needed to wipe out the old-line
mafiosi and create a modern underworld of organ-
ized crime. During his tenure, Whalen diverted pub-
lic attention away from serious crime by organizing
traffic campaigns, encouraging anti-communist
demonstrations, and providing showmanship — with
the omnipresent gardenia in his lapel — as chairman
of the mayor's reception committee for distinguished
(1880-1946): Corrupt federal judge
When Woodrow Wilson made him a federal district
court judge, Martin T Manton at the age of 36 was
the youngest federal jurist in the country. In time, he
became the most crooked — something the crime syn-
dicate was quick to discover.
Early on, Manton lived up to his wunderkind rep-
utation, moving further up, to the appellate court,
within a year and a half. In 1922 he was almost
named by President Harding to the Supreme Court.
In one 10-year period Manton produced 650 opin-
ions, something few other jurists have ever equalled.
It turned out, however, that the underworld con-
curred with many of his decisions. Maintaining a
special bagman to negotiate the sale of his verdicts,
he dispensed his decisions, according to a later
description, "on an over-the-counter basis."
Soliciting a bribe once, Manton said, "While I'm
sitting on the bench I have my right hand and my left
hand." He used both hands when it came to taking
In 1933 a federal grand jury indicted 158 persons,
including crime syndicate bigwigs Louis Lepke and
Gurrah Shapiro, for violation of the antitrust laws in
racketeering in the fur industry. In 1935 both men
were convicted, sentenced to two years in prison and
fined $10,000. Federal Judge John C. Knox refused
bail pending appeal, but then Manton, as senior
judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, freed
them on bond. Later, with Manton presiding, Lepke's
conviction was reversed.
In 1939 Manhattan District Attorney Thomas E.
Dewey, acting on a plethora of evidence, accused
Judge Manton of taking underworld bribes. Manton
resigned his post, announcing he would fight to clear
his name. He was brought to trial. To many the
charges seemed so unbelievable that Manton readily
obtained character-witness testimony for his defense
from Judge Learned Hand and two former presiden-
tial candidates, Al Smith and John W Davis. He was
convicted, and in a personal, bizarre appeal of his
own case before the Supreme Court, he argued:
"From a broad viewpoint, it serves no public policy
for a high judicial officer to be convicted of a judicial
crime. It tends to destroy the confidence of the people
in courts." This "judicial robes defense" got
nowhere with the High Court.