Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Former Mob Boss Tells Jury, Calmly, About Murders

The cross-examination of a Mafia turncoat started quietly and predictably enough on Thursday. Joseph C. Massino, the former boss of the Bonanno crime family, spoke matter-of-factly about having to kill one of his closest associates, simply because he had disobeyed protocol.
“As much as I didn’t want to kill him,” Mr. Massino said of the 1999 murder of Gerlando Sciascia, “I had to kill him.”
Richard Jasper, a defense lawyer for the crime family’s former acting boss, Vincent Basciano, who is charged with ordering the murder of an associate, worked throughout the morning and early afternoon in United States District Court in Brooklyn to try to discredit the star witness, the first official boss of a New York crime family ever to cooperate with federal authorities.
Gerlando Sciascia In his low-key questioning, Mr. Jasper tried to conjure a portrait of Mr. Massino as a remorseless, calculating criminal who hoarded gold and power and would do anything to get avoid being sentenced to death.
Mr. Jasper soft-pedaled Mr. Massino, who had been the Bonanno crime family’s boss since 1991 and is serving two consecutive life sentences for eight murders, into surprisingly detailed answers, like Mr. Massino’s acknowledgment that he had forfeited $12 million to secure a cooperation agreement with the government — including the $7 million he had hidden in his attic and the nearly 500 bricks of gold he had stashed in the basement of his home.
Explaining his cooperation with the government, Mr. Massino said his wife and mother were able to keep their houses and remain financially secure.
Mr. Massino, 68, his ample belly folded into his black sweatsuit, did not seem to be sweating. He never looked at the well-coiffed Mr. Basciano, who wore an olive suit and betrayed little reaction to Mr. Massino’s testimony.
But just after 4 p.m., the trial took a surprising turn when the lead defense lawyer, George R. Goltzer, took over the cross-examination and in a sharp, forceful manner asked about the day in 2005 that Mr. Massino signed his cooperation agreement with the government.
“Did you consider yourself to be a hypocrite?” Mr. Goltzer said, nearly shouting.
Mr. Massino said he had not thought about it.
“You really didn’t care about anyone but yourself?” Mr. Goltzer asked.
Mr. Massino replied that he cared about his family — the one with his wife and mother — and Mr. Goltzer began asking insistently about the number of people Mr. Massino had killed who had violated the oath of the crime family.
Mr. Goltzer handled the last 90 minutes of an exhaustive day of cross-examination after the defense explained to Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis that Mr. Jasper had not been feeling well.
Taryn A. Merkl, an assistant United States attorney, protested to Judge Garaufis that the switch in defense lawyers was tantamount to taking a “second bite of the apple,” an effort to duplicate the earlier cross-examination. It “smacks of gamesmanship,” Ms. Merkl said.
While Judge Garaufis allowed the change in questioners, he sounded deeply disturbed at the defense’s lack of protocol. “This is unheard of in my 10 years on the bench,” the judge angrily told the defense at the end of the court session. Mr. Jasper will continue the cross-examination on Monday, the judge said.
Earlier, Mr. Jasper asked Mr. Massino if he had feared being executed. “You weren’t concerned about the death penalty?” Mr. Jasper asked.
“No, I was not,” Mr. Massino said casually, and later added, “If you’d like, I’ll explain it to you.”
Mr. Massino explained in detail his involvement in many murders, including those of three captains of the Bonanno family in 1981. He admitted under questioning that the bodies of two of the captains were buried deeply in a plot supplied by John J. Gotti.
Later, Mr. Massino admitted that he had lied to the crime family about his involvement in the murder of Mr. Sciascia (known as George from Canada) in 1999, whose body was dumped on a Bronx street.
“Do mob members often lie to each other?” Mr. Jasper asked.
“All the time,” Mr. Massino answered. “It’s a way of life in the mob.”
Mr. Basciano is charged with ordering the 2004 murder of Randolph Pizzolo, a Bonanno associate. Mr. Massino told the jury on Tuesday that Mr. Basciano had spoken to him about ordering the killing, in a conversation he had taped in January 2005 when the two were in prison in Brooklyn.
It was in prison in 2004 that Mr. Massino learned from his lawyer that Mr. Basciano had appointed himself the acting boss. He acknowledged that he also heard that the “word on the street” was that the captains were unhappy with Mr. Basciano’s leadership because “he thinks he’s John Gotti.”
Under questioning from Mr. Goltzer, Mr. Massino conceded that Mr. Basciano had shown disrespect by appointing himself acting boss, since Mr. Massino was technically still the boss even while in prison. He added that he could have ordered Mr. Basciano killed, but that by that time he was already cooperating with the government.
“I love you,” Mr. Basciano said at the end of one of their taped prison conversations that was played in court.
“I love you, too,” Mr. Massino responded.



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