Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Bonanno Family

The Last Don

Joseph Massino
Joseph Massino

Joseph Massino, the man who organized the hits on the three rebel capos, succeeded Rusty Rastelli as boss of the Bonanno Family, not an enviable job with the family in such disarray and still banished from the Commission.  But Massino proved to be remarkably adept at turning things around.  According to journalist Jerry Capeci, Massino "surrounded himself with loyalists, shut down the Bonanno social clubs, and tried to adopt a more secretive manner of doing business."  To foil wiretaps, he insisted that his name never be mentioned.  Instead, members were to point to their ears when referring to him.   His efforts succeeded, and the Bonanno Family was able to reestablish itself in the traditional mob rackets while reorganizing its profitable drug operations.  The rejuvenated family was able to regain its seat on the Commission, and while the bosses of the other four New York families faced indictments and convictions in the 1990s, Massino managed to elude prosecutors, earning him the title, the Last Don.

The family prospered under Massino, and unlike the other New York families, the Bonannos did not suffer from turncoats within their ranks.  But then in 2003 Massino and his brother-in-law Salvatore Vitale were charged with RICO violations and murder in the rubout of "Sonny Black" Napolitano.  Vitale, who was facing another murder charge separately, decided to turn state's witness against Massino to help himself. 

Salvatore Vitale
Salvatore Vitale

Vitale proved to be a very informative stool pigeon for the feds, singing songs of murder and mayhem that rivaled even Gambino-family turncoat Sammy "Bull" Gravano's testimonies in the early 1990s.  Vitale directed the FBI to a known Mafia burial ground in Ozone Park, Queens, which had been used in the late 1970s and early '80s.   This was the marshy lot where the body of "Sonny Red" Indelicato had been found in the weeks after his murder in May 1981. 

Sammy Gravano in court
Sammy "Bull" Gravano in court

In October 2004 the feds returned to the site and dug deeper.   In the mud they found the skeletal remains of three bodies, a credit card with Dominick Trinchera's name on it, and a Piaget wristwatch similar to one that "Lucky Philly" Giaccone had been wearing the day he disappeared.  Investigators suspected that the third body was the remains of John Favara, a furniture store manager and neighbor of the late Gambino boss John Gotti.   Favara had disappeared in 1980 after he accidentally ran over Gotti's 12-year-old son Frank, killing the boy.  Mob informants told authorities that the three rebel Bonanno capos had been buried by Gambino soldiers as "a favor from Mr. Gotti to Mr. Massino," according to the New York Times.   

In July 2004 a jury found Joseph Massino guilty of "orchestrating a quarter-century of murder, racketeering, arson, extortion, loan-sharking, and gambling," the Associated Press reported, running the family from his Queens restaurant, Casablanca.

Gerlando Sciascia
Gerlando Sciascia

On the heels of this conviction, federal prosecutors filed new charges against Massino in the murder of Gerlando "George from Canada" Sciascia who had moved to New York in 1997 after being deported from Canada for being a "public menace."  As reported on Ganglandnews.com, Massino had ordered Sciascia's murder when Sciascia had the "temerity" to accuse one of Massino's favorite capos of being a "coke fiend."  U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, a few days before announcing his resignation from office in November 2004 - and perhaps acting a bit like a don himself - ordered prosecutors to seek the death penalty against Massino in this trial.  If convicted, Massino could become the first Mafia member to face execution since the federal  death penalty was reinstated in 1988.  The last organized-crime figure to be executed in the United States was Louis "Lepke" Buchalter who was given the electric chair in 1944.

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