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October 16, 2006
President Kennedy and Jackie arriving at Love Field,
Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963. Photo courtesy NARA.
New Orleans godfather Carlos Marcello – with Jimmy Hoffa as his bagman – funded Richard Nixon's 1960 presidential bid with $500,000 in cash stuffed in a suitcase. Later Marcello – known as the Big Daddy of the Big Easy – would be named a key conspirator in President Kennedy's assassination.
by Don Fulsom
At the start of the 1920s, marijuana use in America was concentrated in New Orleans – and its intoxicating vapors were mainly inhaled by migrant workers from Mexico, by blacks, and by a growing number of "low-class" whites. Sailors and immigrants from the Caribbean brought this "new" (Its known uses go back to 7,000 B.C.) drug into major southern U.S. ports – above all into the Crescent City.
Along with jazz, pot traveled north to Chicago, and then east to Harlem – where it soon became an indispensable part of the music scene, even entering the language of the black hits of the day (Louis Armstrong's "Muggles," Cab Calloway's "That Funny Reefer Man" and Fats Waller's "Viper's Drag").
A squat but muscular fireplug of a man, rising New Orleans mobster Carlos Marcello was perfectly placed to make boatloads of money from illegal marijuana shipped into his territory. In 1938, though, Marcello sold 23 pounds of pot to an undercover agent. Convicted and sentenced to one year in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, Marcello was also fined more than $75,000. Using his political influence, that particular "Reefer Man" was able to get the fine reduced to just $400. And he was out of prison in nine months. With Louisiana Mafia boss Sam Carolla pulling the strings, Gov. O.K. Allen – a former stooge of assassinated Sen. Huey Long – provided the leniency. Legend has it that Marcello eventually had a tailor sew a foot-long pocket into the left leg of his trousers, "which he would stuff with cash as he made his rounds through (Jefferson) Parish paying off the police one by one."
From pot dealing, police-and politician-corrupting street thug, Marcello graduated to godfather of New Orleans (and Dallas), governing a vast and violent criminal empire that brought in an estimated $2 billion-a-year. He succeeded Sam Carolla, who was deported to Sicily in 1947. Marcello quickly became a generous financial supporter of Richard Nixon; and, eventually, a suspect in the murder of Nixon's nemesis: President John F. Kennedy.