As Salerno described it to Pacific News Service, “I said to them, ‘Suppose Ralph Salerno could wave a magic wand and stop 20% of the drugs coming into Broward County from coming in. How many of you would be in favor of that?’ All 22 or 23 of them raised their hands.
“I then asked, ‘What happens to the price of the 80% that is getting through?’ And one gentleman — a businessman — said it would probably go up. And I said, ‘You’re probably right. So what would happen to the statistics of breaks and entries and tape decks ripped out of cars and CB radios stolen and little old ladies knocked down on the ground while someone grabs their pocket book and runs away?’ And they said, ‘My God, they would go up.’
“One and half minutes into that educational exercise I asked the same people, how many of you would now like to see me wave my magic wand and cut off 20% of the drugs. And they all voted against it.” (from Sam Smith’s Great American Political Repair Manual, pub:WW Norton)
RALPH SALERNO, A POLICE EXPERT ON ORGANIZED CRIME, DIES AT 78
New York Times
By Wolfgang Saxon
October 21, 2003
Ralph Francis Salerno, a highly decorated New York City policeman and an authority on organized crime, died last Wednesday in Scranton, Pa. A former resident of Woodside, Queens, he was 78 and had lived in Lake Ariel, Pa., since 1988. The cause was congestive heart failure, his family said.
When Detective Sgt. Ralph Salerno retired from the Police Department in 1967, he took with him the reputation of knowing more about the Mafia in America than anybody not sworn into it, according to news accounts at the time. He spent more than 20 years in the department’s intelligence branch and left as supervisor of detectives in the central investigations division.
He was regularly summoned to testify as an expert witness on loan-sharking and sundry other criminal activities before both houses of Congress and in the federal and state courts.
After his first retirement, he formally became a consultant to the Department of Justice in Washington and to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
In 1970, Mayor John V. Lindsay and the city’s Off-Track Betting Corporation picked him as special adviser to the corporation amid signs that criminal elements were trying to infiltrate or wreck legalized betting. Three years later, Mr. Salerno joined the Queens district attorney’s office upon the election of Nicholas Ferraro, who chose him as his chief rackets investigator.
Over the years, Mr. Salerno sat on presidential commissions, spoke frequently at public forums and lectured at universities across the United States and Canada. He contributed articles to magazines and wrote a book, “The Crime Confederation” (Doubleday, 1969).
He retired from public service in 1975, after which he worked as a consultant in the private sector.
Ralph Salerno was born in the Bronx to immigrants from the Naples area of Italy, the youngest of 11 children. He told of the family’s flight from the Italian ghetto of East Harlem, on 109th Street, where gangsters had exacted tribute from storekeepers and enforced omertà — the code of silence — on residents.
“The story I remember best,” he said of that era, “is how two thugs came from the fire escape one evening as the family sat at dinner. They were fleeing from the police on the roof. The intruders whistled for silence. Then one looked into the hallway, which was clear, and the pair of them went out that way. My folks were too scared to do anything.
“The next time my father went to the barber shop, the barber handed him a package and said: `A fellow left it for you. He said you’d know why.’ It had a new razor, a brush and a mug ornamented in gold with the emblem of my father’s union in the Sanitation Department. That’s how well they knew everybody’s business.”
Such memories prompted him to become a policeman in 1946, determined to fight criminal associations that could cow a community with fear and small gifts He was appointed a detective in 1950 and a sergeant 10 years later. Although he kept that rank, he became supervisor of detectives in the growing investigations bureau, with a lieutenant’s pay.
Mr. Salerno’s wife of 50 years, Frances McKnight Salerno, died in 1997. He is survived by three sons, James G. of Woodside, Francis D. of Eugene, Ore., and Ralph P. of Glen Head, N.Y.; two brothers, Michael, of Utica, N.Y., and John, of Ballston Spa, N.Y.; and four grandchildren.
In his police career, he was close to the investigations of some of the mob’s most notorious figures. His unit used informants and surveillance as well as court-authorized wiretaps, which he considered indispensable.
Such eavesdropping, he said, could tell investigators whether a missing mobster had made himself scarce or had been killed, merely by the tenses used in a conversation.
Mr. Salerno’s work led to the arrest of many criminals with Italian names. In an interview in The New York Times when he was near retirement as a policeman, he recalled a murder trial when a defendant’s brother reproached him for hurting his own kind.
“I told him, `I’m not your kind, and you’re not my kind,’ ” Mr. Salerno said ” `My manner, morals and mores are not yours. The only thing we have in common is that we both spring from an Italian heritage and culture — and you are the traitor to that heritage and culture, which I am proud to be part of.’ ”