Nitti was born in the small town of Angri, province of Salerno, Campania, Italy.
He was the second child of Luigi and Rosina (Fezza) Nitto and a first cousin of Al Capone.
His father died in 1888, when Frank was two years old, and within a year his mother married Francesco Dolendo.
Although two children were born to the couple, neither survived — leaving Francesco and his older sister, Giovannina, the only children.
Francesco Dolendo emigrated to the United States in July 1890, and the rest of the family followed in June 1893 when Nitti was 7.
The family settled at 113 Navy Street, Brooklyn, New York City. Little Francesco attended public school and worked odd jobs after school to support the family.
His 15-year-old sister married a 24-year-old man and his mother gave birth to his half-brother Raphael in 1894, and another child, Gennaro, in 1896.
Under Torrio’s successor Al Capone, Nitti’s reputation soared.
Nitti ran Capone’s liquor smuggling and distribution operation, importing whisky from Canada and selling it through a network of speakeasies around Chicago.
Nitti was one of Capone’s top lieutenants, trusted for his leadership skills and business acumen.
Capone thought so highly of Nitti that when he went to prison in 1929, he named Nitti as a member of a triumvirate that ran the mob in his place.
Nitti was head of operations, with Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik as head of administration and Tony “Joe Batters” Accardo as head of enforcement.
Despite his nickname (“The Enforcer”), Nitti used Mafia soldiers and others to commit violence rather than do it himself. In earlier days, Nitti had been one of Capone’s trusted personal bodyguards, but as he rose in the organization, Nitti’s business instinct dictated that he must personally avoid the “dirty work”—that was what the hitmen were paid for.
In 1931, both Frank Nitti and Al Capone were convicted of income tax evasion and sent to prison.
However, Nitti only received an 18-month sentence while Capone was sent away for 11 years. Nitti was not a troublesome prisoner, but he found the year-and-a-half confinement in a cell horrifying because of the closed-in space.
When Nitti was released in 1932, the media hailed him as the new boss of the Capone Gang.
On December 19, 1932, a team of Chicago police headed by Detective Sergeants Harry Lang and Harry Miller, raided Nitti’s office, in Room 554, at 221 N. LaSalle (Blvd.).
Lang shot Nitti three times in the back and neck. He then shot himself (a minor flesh wound) to make the shooting look like self-defense, claiming that Nitti had shot him first.
Court testimony later revealed that the murder attempt was personally ordered by newly-elected Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak.
Cermak wanted to push out the Capones in favor of gangsters who answered to him.
In 1943, many top members of the Chicago Outfit were indicted for extorting the Hollywood film industry.
These individuals included Nitti, Ricca, Louis Campagna, Ralph Pierce, Johnny Roselli, Nick Circella, Phil D’Andrea, and Charles Gioe.
The Outfit was accused of trying to strong arm some of the largest Hollywood movie studios, including MGM Studios, Paramount Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Columbia Pictures, and RKO Radio Pictures.
The studios had cooperated with The Outfit to avoid union trouble stirred up by the mob.