Who was the real-life Tony Soprano?

Tony Soprano is arguably one of the most complex characters that TV has ever produced. Whilst David Chase has never said that he based the character around anyone in particular, there are several similarities between Tony and real-life mafiosos.

Michael Taccetta is considered Tony Soprano’s real-life counterpart, a capo who ran the Lucchese family’s New Jersey faction until his incarceration in 1993.  Like Tony, who’s played on the show by award-winning actor James Gandolfini, the heavyset Taccetta lived in a lavish suburban home in Florham Park, New Jersey. Like many of the younger generation of wiseguys, he flaunted his ill-gotten gains. The old-timers preferred to keep low profiles and didn’t make a show of their wealth, even if they had a mountain of cash stashed in the basement. Taccetta, who was born and raised in the Vailsburg section of Newark, did a lot of his business in the city, but like a commuter he would go home to his castle in the ‘burbs.

According to the book, The Sopranos: A Family History by Allen Rucker, the Soprano crime family is “a free-standing, semi-autonomous organisation with probably some ad hoc partnership with one or two of the five [New York crime] families.” Though Tony Soprano’s relations with New York appear to be basically sound, he always has to keep a wary eye out for trouble from across the river. In real-life, Jersey mobsters, no matter what family they’re affiliated with, occupy an even more precarious terrain, sandwiched between the five families in New York and the trigger-happy Philadelphia family.

Michael Taccetta had plenty of problems with the New York leadership of the Lucchese family when boss Vic Amuso and underboss Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso became convinced that the Jersey faction of the family was not paying their fair share of illegal profits to New York.

Thinking man’s mobster

Taccetta prided himself on being the thinking man’s mobster and was seen on many occasions carrying a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince in his back pocket. Initially, he tried to redirect the bosses’ anger at his own enemies within the Jersey faction. But his machinations backfired. The Casso family lost patience and sought a comprehensive solution to the matter. They issued a contract for the heads of the whole Jersey faction with the simple but chilling order, “Whack New Jersey!”

The hits were eventually called off, but the friction within the Jersey faction was exacerbated by Taccetta’s handling of the problem. Like Tony Soprano, who on the show has had to deal with the openly hostile Richie Aprile as well as the duplicitous Ralph Cifaretto, Taccetta had soldiers whose resentment soon turned into undisguised animosity. Taccetta’s principle enemy was enforcer Tommy Ricciardi (see Silvio Dante below) who told Taccetta to his face while they were both on trial in 1993 that when the trial was over, he would kill Taccetta if Taccetta didn’t kill him first.

Tacetta’s Trial

That trial focused on Taccetta’s crew’s 1984 attempted extortion of a video poker game manufacturer. Often used for illegal gambling, these machines could earn as much as $3,000 per week with minimal upkeep. The mob’s dream was to replace the traditional corner bookies with Joker Poker machines, eliminating the often unreliable middlemen and thus increasing their profits. There was just one problem with taking over this company that made the machines, SMS Vending Manufacturing—Philadelphia’s Bruno-Scarfo family had already infiltrated the company. One of the company’s three owners was “with” Philadelphia. Undaunted, Taccetta’s crew pressed their claim on the other two owners, the Storino brothers, and to make their point they murdered the brothers’ uncle, beating the man to death with a golf club.

It was a cold case for many years, but the accused conspirators were finally put on trial nine years later, with Taccetta, Ricciardi, Taccetta’s brother Michael, former boss Anthony Accetturo, and associate Michael Ryan facing an array of charges. By this time the men on trial hated each-other more than the government. Ricciardi and Taccetta were determined to destroy one another.

Associate Ryan was acquitted, but the four made men were all convicted. Facing major sentences, Ricciardi along with Accetturo turned state’s witness and started talking. They gave up a treasure trove of information that led to further arrests, convictions, and long prison terms. Ricciardi was more than willing to reveal Michael Taccetta’s past misdeeds.

Tony Soprano is portrayed on the show as a stand-up guy and a mob traditionalist. Faithful viewers know he’d never inform on his brethren, and that he’d certainly say “forget about it” to the Witness Protection Program. Michael Taccetta shares that view and abides by the strict rules of omerta, the Mafia code of silence. He’s now incarcerated in New Jersey’s Trenton State Prison, doing his time and keeping his mouth shut.


Your Turn: Have you ever watched the Sopranos? Did you know about the characters’ real-life counterparts? Tell us below, we’d love to hear from you.



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