A major narcotics distributor for many years, Papa plotted the famous French Connection drug thefts. Between 1969 and 1972, thieves stole approximately $70,000,000 in confiscated narcotics from the New York City Police Property Clerk's office in Lower Manhattan. Over 400 pounds of heroin and cocaine disappeared back into the streets. Although some of the drugs were eventually recovered, the majority was lost forever. The French Connection theft became the biggest corruption scandal in NYPD history and one of the most spectacular crimes in city history. This theft was never solved.
Papa's crew, whose members included Loria and Virgil Alessi, distributed close to $1 million in heroin along the East Coast of the United States during the early seventies. It was widely suspected that Papa sold the stolen drugs.
In 1975, Papa was convicted and sent to the Atlanta Federal Prison in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1977, Papa was stabbed to death in prison by the Aryan Brotherhood. The motive for Papa's murder remains unclear. However, when prosecutors were still investigating the French Connection thefts, then-United States Attorney Rudy Giuliani allegedly leaked a deal that Papa had made with the government. Papa had promised to release the names of agents working for the United States Organized Crime Strike Force who were giving information secretly to Papa's organization. Under the terms of the deal, he would not be prosecuted for heroin trafficking. Giuliani allegedly ignored the deal and spread the word that Papa had become an informant. This alleged misinformation prompted the Lucchese family to order Papa's murder in prison.
Papa is buried in Queens, New York, in St. John's Cemetery, the so-called "Mafia's Boot Hill". This cemetery holds infamous underworld figures such as Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Joe Profaci, Vito Genovese, Joe Colombo, and Carlo Gambino.