Rene James "The Painter" Piccarreto Sr. (July 26, 1924 - March 26, 2014) was a prominent local organized crime figure who served as the "Consigliere" or official adviser to the Rochester Crime Family throughout most of its existence.
Piccarreto was a second generation American born in Rochester, NY to a large Italian family. The son of Vito Piccarreto, a Sicilian mobster, Rene came of age in the city, attending and graduating from the troubled Madison High School on Genesee Street, where he played football. Upon graduation he enlisted in the United States Marine Corp and fought in the battle of Iwo Jima during WWII and was stationed as in Nagasaki Japan with the military police. A highly decorated soldier, he returned to Rochester a war hero, but was scarred by his experience which included the deaths of many of his close friends. Upon his return, he worked as a house painter and coached little league baseball in Henrietta.
Described as polite and soft-spoken, Rene Piccarreto would begin rising through the ranks of the local underworld. Piccarreto would serve as messenger and driver to Constenze Valenti, the head of gambling rackets locally. Valenti was a member of the Buffalo Crime Family at the time, but controlled organized rime in Rochester. Eventually, Stanley's brother Frank Valenti would take over as boss and Piccarreto would retain his position under Frank's leadership. Throughout the 1960s, turbulence within the Buffalo Crime Family caused don Stefano Magaddino to fall out of favor with local mobsters. Valenti consolidated power and declared the local group an independent crime family. Now undisputed leader of the city, Frank "The Sphinx" Valenti appointed an underboss in Samuel Russotti, various capos including Salvatore Gingello and Rene Piccarreto was declared the consligiere. This organization was successful. This was until it was uncovered that Valenti was "keeping certain moneys" for himself and using the skimmed money to purchase property and make business investments in Phoenix, Arizona. In a meeting that included Piccarreto, Samuel "Red" Russotti and Salvatore "Sammy G" Gingello, they confronted Valenti with the allegations that he was withholding profits from the family's operations from the rest of the members.
In May 1972, the three men approached Valenti again, this time ordering him to relinquish the family's records and to turn over the money that he had skimmed. Valenti was told it was time for him to retire. Under pressure, he turned over what was requested, but immediately ordered hits on Russotti, Gingello, and Piccarreto. Realizing the strength of family members loyal to the trio, the soldiers of his family refused to carry out Valenti's orders. When they discovered his plans, the group reached out to Bonanno Family leaders to sanction the killing of Valenti, which was denied due to his ties to Pittsburgh and other high profile leaders. They did however retaliate when one of his body guards was shotgunned to death on June 15, 1972. Valenti then retired peacefully to Arizona, leaving Russotti as the new boss of the family, but the takeover by the new regime would lead to the creation of rival factions within the crime family and a bloody gangwar that became known as the "Alphabet wars", as those loyal to Russotti were known as the "A Team" and those loyal to Valenti ally, Thomas Didio were known as the "B Team."
During the 1970s, Rene began to gradually pull out of local operations, still remaining involved heavily, but he moved with his family to Yuca Valley, California in 1973 where he operated a real estate company.
In 1977, Piccarreto was jailed along with other high ranking members of the family for the murder of Vincent "Jimmy the Hammer" Massaro, but were all released a year later when it was revealed that the police had fabricated evidence to gain the convictions. This turned out to be a massive law enforcement scandal that led to the incarceration of several detectives. A free man, Piccarreto continued to operate and eliminate Valenti loyalists and was seen as Rochester's man. Rene Piccarreto's position within the local mafia was actually somewhat controversial. Many law enforcement officials actually believed it was Piccarreto who was acting boss. Newspaper articles from the time report as such, however contemporary sources do support he was the consigliere, advising the leaders of the family, rather than actually heading the organized crime syndicate. The reason for this original suspicious was likely due to his enormous influence within the family. Piccarreto was the mastermind behind many of the Rochester mob's gambling operations. He ensured rackets remained profitable and was also responsible for negotiations with other crime families having had strong ties to the Bonanno Family of New York City. However, in 1984, he was convicted of RICO charges and sentenced to 23 years in prison. While in prison, his son Loren became underboss of the family during an unsuccessful attempt to retain control after the imprisonment of Rochester's mafia leadership.
Piccarreto was released from prison in 2007 and died locally after battling a long illness in 2014.