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

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The rise and fall of the Bonanno crime family


It started “The Godfather.” It ended “Jersey Shore.” Last week, the Bonanno crime organization — one of the “Five Families” of New York lore — became a parody of itself, shot down not on the tollway but with leopard print and mascara.
There’s Renee Graziano in court, crying as she explains how her husband, Hector Pagan, flipped for the DEA, wearing a wire to nab her father, Anthony “TG” Graziano, consigliere to the Bonannos.
Then there’s Renee on VH1’s show, “Mob Wives,” undergoing full-body plastic surgery that leaves her sliced up like prosciutto. She discusses the family business in such detail that her father stopped talking to her.
Renee Graziano has turned the public image of the Bonannos to hair pulling and plastic surgery on “Mob Wives.”
Renee Graziano has turned the public image of the Bonannos to hair pulling and plastic surgery on “Mob Wives.”
It’s hard to tell who wounded the family more — the rat or the reality star.
In a recent episode, the oldest of the “Mob Wives,” Angela “Big Ang” Raiola, turned to Pagan and summed it up. “We need some new guys . . . some real men.”
An epidemic of snitching and a slew of arrests has gutted this once-robust family, started by original commission member Joseph “Joe Bananas” Bonanno.
Joseph Ponzi, chief investigator for the Brooklyn DA’s office, says the recent take-down of acting boss Vincent “Vinny TV” Badalamenti — a relatively unknown bagel-store owner from Bensonhurst whom Ponzi called “the last man standing” — has left the family rudderless.
There’s no clear boss, street boss or consigliere. The in-house counsel job became vacant on Jan. 27, when Anthony Graziano, busted with Badalamenti and other senior leaders, was charged with racketeering and extortion, thanks to Pagan’s wire.
“They keep setting ’em up, and we keep knocking ’em down,” said Seamus McElearney, the FBI supervisor whose squad investigates the Bonannos and has been hammering them and the Colombos with equal vigor.
The feds have secured a number of key Bonanno defections, including that of Joseph “Big Joe” Massino, the only New York crime-family leader ever to rat out his own people. Massino began cooperating in 2004, and over the last eight years his defection has been exploited to maximum advantage, bringing down virtually the entire upper management.
The biggest to fall was the family’s toughest tough guy, ex-boss Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano, and one of the few not to flip. He nearly drew the death penalty in June, thanks to Massino having secretly recorded the two of them blabbing behind bars, where Basciano not only copped to killing an associate but discussed in detail how and why the hit went down. Massino loosened up Basciano, his successor as family head, with a grim summary of the state of affairs.
“We got enough enemies,” he told him. “We’re fighting the law. We’re fighting the rats. We fight ourselves.”
“The level of cooperation is amazing,” McElearney said. “It’s been a spiral effect. It’s, ‘Do I want to look out for my mob family or my real family?’ ”
The Bonannos once sat among the power elite of New York’s Cosa Nostra, with some 150 or so made members. It dominated the Mafia’s drug trade almost from its formation in the late 1920s and generated tens of millions during its peak in the early 1990s.
Now they’re down to as few as 40 or so members, and they’ve lost a major outpost in Canada, where a separate branch of the Bonannos controlled that country’s underworld for decades and was dubbed “The Sixth Family.”
Salvatore “Sal the Iron Worker” Montagna, previously the Bonanno acting boss in New York, was vying to take over as Canadian godfather after having been deported from Brooklyn to his native Montreal in 2009 following a stint in jail on gambling charges.
But Montagna didn’t achieve his dream — he was killed in November, trying to swim across a nearly frozen river as assassins, likely from within his own family, coolly pumped him full of lead.
A likely successor, Vito “Teflon Don” Rizzuto, gets out of federal prison in Colorado in October. But his heart might not be in it. While he was jailed, rivals rubbed out his father, son and brother-in-law.
“By some accounts, the Canadian faction of the Bonanno family was actually stronger than the American,” Ponzi said. “But they’ve fallen apart, too. They’ve been pounded.”
Some believe the Bonannos, at the bottom of New York’s underworld hierarchy, are as close to extinction as any ruling family has ever been.
A long, slow descent certainly could not have been imagined by founder Bonanno, a proud, cunning mafioso who valued honor and respect above all and was among the underworld bosses said to have inspired Don Vito Corleone’s character in “The Godfather.”
Bonanno, born in a Sicilian coastal town swarming with gangsters, arrived in Williamsburg as a boy and was a bootlegger at 19. He also served as underboss to a top Brooklyn mob leader, Salvatore Maranzano, who came from the same town and eventually emerged as the city’s most powerful underworld chief.
Maranzano created a position for himself, “boss of bosses,” or capo di tutti capi. During Prohibition, when gangsters scored huge profits but slaughtered each other, Maranzano dreamed up a national structure for the Mafia, with each family having its own leader, instead of the one godfather for all. Among his new rules was omerta, silence on all matters.
But in 1931, Maranzano was killed by rival family boss Charles “Lucky” Luciano before his dream was fully realized. Luciano took over and gave Maranzano’s family to Bonanno, making Joe Bananas, at 26, the youngest member of his new commission.
That’s how New York got its Five Families, each run by a boss and all later renamed for family heads who followed: Maranzano (quickly renamed for Joe Bonanno after Maranzano’s death), Luciano (Genovese), Joe Profaci (Colombo), Tommy Gagliano (Lucchese) and Vincent Mangano (Gambino).
What distinguished Bonanno was his steady leadership and business acumen. He was a central, stabilizing force who had numerous legit businesses, kept a low profile, was close to Profaci — and enjoyed one of the most successful tenures in mob history. In addition to the Canadian expansion, he opened new markets in Buffalo, California and Arizona.
He was among the top bosses busted at the infamous Apalachin gathering in 1957 but avoided any prison time after suffering a heart attack while under indictment.
But in the 1960s, Bonanno ran afoul of the commission. Profaci died of cancer in 1962 and Bonanno, feeling his position weakening, plotted with Profaci’s successor to rub out commission members Carlo Gambino and Tommy Lucchese. The contract hit went to Joe Colombo — who quickly alerted the intended targets. Bonanno went into hiding.
This led to an internal war dubbed “The Banana Split,” which culminated with a shootout in Brooklyn in 1966 — and the family being kicked off the commission. Two years later Bonanno, claiming a worsening heart problem, retired to Tucson.
It was a ruse, according to Rudy Giuliani, who as a young federal prosecutor studied Bonanno’s autobiography, “A Man of Honor,” and concluded the book’s information opened the door to using racketeering laws known as RICO to indict the entire commission.
“He stayed out of jail for like 25 years, saying he had a heart condition,” Giuliani said. “Well, we had a doctor examine him and it was a bunch of bull. He was healthy as a horse.”
Giuliani said that mobsters like Joe — full of himself yet “incredibly intelligent” — don’t exist any more. When Bonanno’s heart disease finally killed him in 2002, he was 97 and had spent a total of only 14 months in jail during his life.
After his departure, the family fell into a state of chaos. An interim boss, Carmine Galante, seized power, boosted the drug profits and restored the family’s standing with the syndicate, but he was assassinated in 1979 on the porch of a Bushwick restaurant for not sharing heroin proceeds with other families.
The shaky leadership of new boss Philip “Rusty” Rastelli was marked by the slaying of three rogue captains who challenged Rastelli and the humiliating infiltration of “Donnie Brasco” — undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone, who spent six years gathering evidence and was proposed to become a made man. His work inspired the hit movie of the same name, which included a bloody rendition of the captain murders and other Bonanno rub-outs.
That revelation that the family allowed an FBI agent to get that close to them compelled the commission to boot the family out again.
Finally, in 1991, under “Big Joe” Massino, the Bonannos rallied. While investigators concentrated on the Colombo crime war, the Bonannos “had a free run in New York for a number of years,” said former FBI mob buster Bruce Mouw. “They were a pretty strong family then.”
Massino stressed secrecy — and opened a new avenue for income: stock fraud. He also forged a strong friendship with Gambino head John Gotti, who got the Bonannos back on the commission. At the height of his rule, the feds believed Massino to be the strongest mob boss in the country.
A number of characters emerged during this time, including associate Chris Paciello, who became a Miami nightclub owner and pal of Madonna’s, and Thomas “Tommy Karate” Pitera, a sadistic hitman with 60 murders to his credit who specialized in robbing drug dealers and carving up bodies.
“We kept hearing him say he was going to ‘Samsonite’ them. We didn’t know what that meant,” said retired detective Tommy Dades. “It turned out he would get naked and take his victim into the shower, chop him up and put him into a suitcase.”
Dades says the beginning of the end of the Bonannos’ reign came when the feds turned Frankie Coppa, a Bonanno captain from Dyker Heights who owned a pizza joint on 13th Avenue.
“He ends up making cases against all these powerful guys. And before you know it, everybody’s getting arrested and everybody’s flipping,” Dades said.
The casualties included another former boss, Anthony “Old Man” Spero, who went away for life in 2002 and died in prison six years later.
Massino eventually flipped to spare his wife, who faced the loss of their family home and his entire fortune. He turned over five of his 10 real-estate properties, along with hundreds of gold bars he’d hidden in his basement and $7 million in cash he’d stashed in his attic.
So many deals have been cut, some have wondered: Is there anyone left to put in jail?
The other families are steering clear of the Bonannos right now, consolidating their holdings while they and the Colombos suffer. The Genovese are considered the most powerful today by law enforcement, followed by the Lucchese and Gambino.
But agents caution that just because they are down, doesn’t mean they are out.
“They’re going to have to scramble to find a street boss, but the mob’s been around for 100 years,” McElearney said. “They will rebuild.”



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