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

Monday, April 11, 2011

New York Mob Boss to Testify for the Government

When he appeared in a Brooklyn courtroom in 2003, Joseph C. Massino claimed to be a restaurateur and the owner of a catering company. This time, he will offer no such pretense; when he takes the witness stand on Tuesday, he will make history as the first official boss of one of New York’s five mob families to break ranks and testify for the government.
Joseph C. Massino was head of the Bonanno crime family for 14 years.

The defection of a Mafia boss was once unthinkable. But government prosecutions have battered and weakened New York’s mob families over the course of two decades, and a trickle of defections has become a steady stream, with several “acting” or caretaker bosses becoming turncoats.
But Mr. Massino’s decision to cooperate with federal prosecutors in Brooklyn and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, disclosed in January 2005, was all the more shocking because of his reputation as an Old World stalwart, a crime boss who seemed to cling to the fading values of honor and omertà, the Mafia’s code of silence, a reputation that had earned him the tabloid nickname “the last don.”
Now 68, his pompadour fading and his full jowls framing a voice tinged with the inflections of his native Queens, he turned against the Bonanno family shortly after his July 2004 conviction on murder and racketeering charges. At the time, he faced life in prison for those crimes, and prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty in another case, making him the first mob boss to face execution in decades.
Mr. Massino will testify on Tuesday at the federal murder and racketeering trial of Vincent Basciano, who could also face the death penalty if convicted of killing a Bonanno associate, Randolph Pizzolo. Mr. Basciano is already serving a life sentence for a murder and racketeering conviction in 2007.
At the time of his conviction, Mr. Massino offered the government information about Mr. Basciano, an underling who he said was plotting to kill a federal prosecutor, and he secretly recorded their conversations in a federal holding cell. Mr. Basciano, who prosecutors say was then a Bonanno captain serving as the family’s acting boss, was also facing several murder indictments.
Mr. Massino also recorded Mr. Basciano talking about the murder of Mr. Pizzolo, and prosecutors later contended that Mr. Basciano also was plotting to kill the judge in his case, Nicholas G. Garaufis of United States District Court, who is presiding over the current trial. As part of his cooperation deal, Mr. Massino pleaded guilty to eight more murders and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms; his wife and daughter were allowed to keep their homes.
Barry Levin, who represented Mr. Basciano at his 2006 trial, dismissed Mr. Massino’s utility as a witness, calling him “a pathological liar” and saying the government “had welcomed him with open arms only to prove they could break a boss.”
Mr. Levin also criticized the Justice Department for bringing Mr. Basciano to trial again despite his life term in prison. The case, he said, has already cost taxpayers nearly $4 million — the fees for Mr. Basciano’s court-appointed defense lawyers — and the trial itself has not yet begun. Mr. Levin attributed this to the government’s effort to win a death sentence over what the authorities have said was Mr. Basciano’s plot to kill the prosecutor. He pointed out that no Brooklyn jury has meted out a death sentence to a mob figure for generations.
Mr. Massino’s appearance on Tuesday comes as law enforcement officials have been debating the strength and capabilities of organized crime families, whose ranks have been decimated over the last two decades. But some investigators say that they are concerned that the crime families are resurgent after 10 years in which federal authorities have been more focused on terrorism and white-collar crime, and that further refocusing resources away from mob families will allow them to grow stronger.
Mr. Massino, who unlike some of his peers eschewed the limelight, had been successful in keeping discipline tight in the Bonanno family for years, even as other crime clans were riven by defections. That approach — borne of the family’s penetration by an undercover F.B.I. agent in the early 1980s, which was portrayed in the movie “Donnie Brasco” — for a time served him well.
Meanwhile, the growing ranks of mob turncoats from other families over the last two decades helped the authorities beat down three of New York’s other crime families, as well as the New Jersey family that became the model for the television show “The Sopranos.”
The Bonanno and Genovese families managed to largely avoid the onslaught because few members broke ranks and became government witnesses.
That changed for the Bonannos after a series of investigations chipped away at the family with a few defections in the late 1990s. The shift seemed to peak when Mr. Massino’s underboss — his wife’s brother — betrayed him and became a witness, a coup that was eventually to be outdone by the cooperation of Mr. Massino, the boss himself.



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