His father spent the remainder of his life at the house in Blooming Grove, where his family cared for him. “It was a full-time job,” Chris recalled. They installed tilt tables so that they could turn Joe, Sr., to avoid bedsores, and lifts to keep his legs going up and down. He needed to be fed. “I was mad at God,” Chris said. “Those were my dark years.” In 1978, his father finally died.
A year later, Chris was attending Marist College, in Poughkeepsie, when some football players made a wisecrack about his name. “I fought the whole team,” he said. “I never bothered anybody but I was not running away. I would fight a T. rex.” He prided himself on his fighting skills. “I am a short, stocky guy. My reach is just this far,” he said, gesturing with a right jab. “But, if I get on the inside, it is all over.”
Not all fights were decided by punches. At the night clubs where Chris hung out, some of the tough guys who challenged him were armed. “I can’t tell you how many times I had a gun put to my head,” he said. “I think I was trying to get myself killed. It just didn’t happen.”
Joe Colombo, Sr., was adamant that his sons never follow him into organized crime. “My brothers and myself were supposed to be straight,” Chris said. Despite the father’s edict, each of his sons—Chris, Joe, Jr., Vincent, and Anthony—have done prison time. The eldest son, Anthony, appears to have been the only one to become a made member of the Colombo family, although Anthony, who died in 2017, long denied it.
“I never chose that path,” Chris said. But, if he didn’t join the family, he worked closely alongside it. He ran a bookmaking operation, taking illegal bets on sporting events. The challenge, he said, was to set the right betting line. “There are thousands of bets coming in,” he explained. “Half a point can kill you.” His operation grew so large that other bookmakers would lay off their bigger bets on him to reduce their chances of getting wiped out by a high roller’s winning wager. The government later claimed that Chris’s bookmaking network earned him as much as seventy thousand dollars a day. Part of the work was staying ahead of law enforcement. Since he figured it took a month of surveillance to obtain a court-ordered wiretap, he said, he’d move his offices “every twenty-eight days.”