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Joe Masseria was born in Sicily in 1887. He moved to the United States in 1903 and settled in New York where he soon became involved in criminal activity. By 1930 he was one of the city's leading gangsters and employing people such as Albert Anastasia, Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano.
Masseria was involved in bootlegging, prostitution and drug smuggling. In an attempt to hold on to his lucrative trade, Masseria declared war on his main rival, Salvatore Maranzano. Over the next few months over sixty men were killed during this gang war.