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

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Massino becomes first mafia boss in history to turn on the witness stand

There isn't a hunk of cheese big enough for this rat.
IT'S COME TO THIS: Jailed former Bonanno boss Joseph 'Big Joey' Massino is pictured testifying yesterday in Manhattan federal court, fingering his successor, 'Vinny Gorgeous' Basciano, in the murder of an underling.
IT'S COME TO THIS: Jailed former Bonanno boss Joseph "Big Joey" Massino is pictured testifying yesterday in Manhattan federal court, fingering his successor, "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano, in the murder of an underling.

Joseph "Big Joey" Massino yesterday became the first mob boss in history to turn stoolie on the stand.
The former Bonanno leader, once dubbed "The Last Don," pointed the finger at his handpicked successor, Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano, who is on trial in Brooklyn federal court for allegedly ordering the murder of one of their associates.
"That guy in the gray suit sitting there," Massino said, staring at the defendant, who stared back, chewing on candy.
With those words, omerta, the Mafia's famed code of silence, officially slept with the fishes.
Basciano "told me that he had him killed," Massino, 68, told the jury, describing a conversation about the late Randy Pizzolo that the two had in prison while the boss-turned-informant was wearing a wire.
"He said he was a scumbag, a rat, a troublemaker, a bad kid," Massino said explaining Basciano's reasons for wanting Pizzolo dead.
He also testified that Basciano had once volunteered to help him exterminate any rats in the family.
"If we need to kill anybody, me and [another mobster] will do it," Massino quoted Basciano as saying. A prearranged code word -- "Jocko" -- would signal the target of a killing.
Massino said that Basciano at one point suspected that Salvatore "Good Looking Sal" Vitale was an informant, and asked to "kill him as he walked out of the gym.
"I said, 'Fuggetaboudit,' " Massino testified.
Basciano's instincts were good. Vitale was flipped by the feds.
Massino, the last of the old Mafia Commission bosses, led the Bonanno family for nearly two decades. He turned rat in 2004 to avoid facing the death penalty in connection with the seven murders he had been convicted of, and an eighth for which he was awaiting trial.
"I got convicted and I decided to cooperate," he said.
In return, he testified that his wife was spared from prosecution and allowed to keep their home, while he has a shot at a reduced sentence. "One day, maybe I'll see a little light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
While still masquerading as the Bonanno boss in the federal Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, Massino fed information to US prosecutors.
Much of his cooperation involves recordings he made of conversations with Basciano, in which the new boss said he was plotting to kill a federal prosecutor, as well as Brooklyn federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis.
An FBI agent would strap a body wire on Massino, and then the ex-godfather would meet with Basciano -- who was locked up there as well -- in the jail's "bullpen" area, the blabbing ex-boss said.
That's where Basciano told him about the Pizzolo hit, even though he was concerned that the walls might have ears.
Massino recounted one incident when Basciano, who'd been acting crime boss while Massino was behind bars, approached him with a package of Pringles.
"Taste these potato chips," Massino quoted him as saying.
Massino looked carefully through the package, and "in the middle of the chips, there was a note . . . on a yellow piece of paper," he said.
It was a coded message from Basciano, which was magnified and displayed on a large screen for the jury.
"If you could just let someone know what I'm saying is coming from you. I think it will make everyone feel better," the note read.
Massino said he thought his protégé was trying to ensure their men knew that the orders Basciano was giving from behind bars still had the Massino stamp of approval.
The old-time crime boss kept the jury rapt while he told of his ascension through the mob ranks -- including his role in the infamous "Three Captains" hit -- and of how he made Basciano a made man.
Massino said his own life of crime began at age 12, when "I robbed homing pigeons."
In the late 1960s, Massino said, he was involved in "bookmaking, murders, breaking and entering." By the early 1970s, he was approached by then-boss Philip "Rusty" Rastelli to work as an associate with the Bonannos.
Massino yesterday also named John Gotti as the triggerman in the 1975 hit of Vito Borelli, who'd made a crack about mob boss Paul Castellano's resemblance to renowned chicken man Frank Perdue.
Massino was inducted into the Mafia in 1977, taking his now-shattered sacred oath to protect the secret society.
It was understood, he said, that "once a bullet leaves that gun, you never talk about it."
The Bonanno family hit hard times in the early 1980s, when it split into two factions.
Massino helped end the infighting with the "Three Captains" murders.
Members of the rival faction -- capos Dominick "Big Trin" Trinchera, Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato and Philip "Philly Lucky" Giaccone -- were lured to a Brooklyn social club in May 1981 on the pretext of a sitdown to resolve the their differences.
Once inside, they were ambushed and the scene devolved into chaos.
" 'Philly Lucky' ran past me," Massino recalled. "He got shot and he went down."
Then "Sonny Red" tried to bolt, but "I grabbed his ankles," Massino said.
"Trini gets hit with a [blast from] a double-barreled shotgun."
More trouble followed for the Bonannos following the 1980s "Donnie Brasco" sting operation, in which undercover FBI Agent Joseph Pistone worked his way up the organization's ranks to bring much of it down. The family was subsequently booted from the five-family Mafia Commission.
Massino sanctioned a hit on the "family" member who brought Pistone into the gang, and helped make peace with the other families.
He said he became boss in the late 1980s and gave strict orders that his men never utter his name -- a precaution against FBI surveillance. Instead, his soldiers touched their ears to refer to him, earning him the nickname "The Ear."
In an effort to thwart wiretapping feds, he also shuttered the family's social clubs, and insisted that meetings be held in foreign nations or obscure locations within the United States.
Massino said the role of the mob boss is that of executive and executioner.
"Murders, responsibility for the family, made captains, break captains," he explained.
At one point, Massino said, the five crime families were renamed for him, Gotti, Vincent "The Chin" Gigante and Carmine Persico, but their crews used the traditional names to keep the heat off their bosses.
Massino was serving time in the early 1990s at a federal prison in Alabama when he was handed a list with 12 candidates to become soldiers in the family. One was Basciano.
"I approved them all," Massino recalled.
Basciano did not meet Massino until years later, when the boss was out of the pen and back at the restaurant he owned in Queens, the CasaBlanca.
"I told him, 'Good luck,' " Massino said.
Over time, Basciano proved his worth.
"He was a good earner," Massino recalled. "He was a good man. He had a lot of numbers spots in The Bronx."
They got to know each other, and after Basciano ate at CasaBlanca, he and his wife would join Massino for dessert.
"He'd come over and have coffee and cake with us," Massino said.
Basciano's lawyer, George Goltzer, dismissed Massino as a "no-account gangster" in his opening statement.
Over more than a quarter-century, Massino was responsible for many killings, but his "piéce de résistance" was the "sinister" murder of the three Bonanno captains, Goltzer said.
"Those three men were mowed down, and Joseph Massino became the most powerful man in that family," Goltzer said. "By the year 2000, Joseph Massino had become one of the most powerful organized-crime figures in the United States."
Though some acting bosses have testified, Massino is the first official family chieftan to take the stand. His turning rat is somewhat less surprising given how he was treated by his own protégés -- it was his brother-in-law and underboss, Vitale, among other members of his crew, who turned on him first.
Since becoming an informant, Massino has provided the FBI a steady flow of information, but his testimony yesterday will put him in the mob history books.
His testimony continues today.



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