The information gleaned by Pistone, as he masqueraded as a jewel thief and Mafia collaborator, helped put 120 wise-guys behind bars.Yet, with all the help that Pistone gave, prosecutors were never able to decapitate the Bonanno clan completely. Over the years, the heads of the other families – the Gambino, Luchese, Colombo and Genovese crime organizations – have all been successfully prosecuted, the late Gotti among them. Pistone had plenty to tell about Massino, but only now has the government assembled a case they believe will nail him.This trial, which began yesterday with jury selection – testimony is expected to start in a few weeks and take about three months to complete – is, in other words, about unfinished business. Two of the murders that will be invoked concern victims who were allegedly killed on Massino’s orders precisely because they were the ones who were suckered by Pistone and allowed him into the clan’s inner circle.Pistone, who since his mission has lived at a secret location under government protection, is among those expected to take the witness stand. He has made it clear that he hopes the time has finally come for Massino’s career atop the Bonanno family tree to come to an end. “Joey’s the last of the real gangsters,” offers Pistone as he readies himself to testify.In an ominous turn for Massino, meanwhile, the witness list also includes a man who used to be one of his most loyal lieutenants, best friend and brother-in-law He is Salvatore Vitale – also known as “Good Looking Sal”. Vitale is one of several former Bonanno capos who have abandoned the old oath of silence, or omerta – which traditionally forbade Mafia gangsters from cooperating with prosecutors and divulging secrets – and agreed to take the stand in return for more lenient punishments for themselves.
Vitale and Massino became friends as youths, and Massino married Vitale’s sister, Josephine.”Look at the number of people who have turned against him from his own family,” Pistone commented, looking forward to what he expects to be Massino’s conviction. “He’s been betrayed by a new, younger generation of Mafia guys who could not care less about the traditions of refusing to cooperate with law enforcement officials. They’ll cut a deal for themselves the first chance they get.”Pistone’s most important contact in the Bonanno network was one of its most senior captains, Dominick Napolitano or “Sonny Black” as we he was known in the underworld. (Apparently, his Mafia name arose from his well-known penchant for black hair dye.) Napolitano so trusted Pistone that he introduced him to the wives and children of the other captains as well as to Massino. And he shared with the agent many of the details of the crimes the family had committed.Not long after Pistone’s cover was blown in 1981, the body of Napolitano was discovered in a swamp on Staten Island. Prosecutors say that he was “whacked” by the family – more specifically on the orders of Massino – as punishment for the mistake he had made with Pistone.
The hands of Napolitano had been severed, presumably as a symbol of retribution for shaking hands with a turncoat and infiltrator. Another Bonanno captain was killed a year later, allegedly also because he had been close to Pistone.It will be a signal moment for the government if it succeeds in convicting Massino. Over the past 15 years, the authorities have spread a widening dragnet over the activities of the Mafia in New York with considerable success. The organisation’s one time grip on the city – on its labour leaders, its docks and even some of its politicians – has been very considerably weakened. But for a long time, the Bonanno crew, well known for its secrecy and low profile, managed to stay below the government’s radar.Recently, however, prosecutors have brought charges against a total of 25 senior figures in the plan.
It is a gutting of its hierarchy that may put it out of business for good. “The Bonanno family is reeling,” said Pasquale J D’Amuro, who spent four years directing an FBI probe of Massino and others, resulting in the recent round-up. “Today, to say it has an organised structure is to give it too much credit.”Massino, who served five years in prison on a previous conviction before being released and taking command of the clan in 1992, has made an art of being discreet. Gotti, who died from cancer in prison three years ago, was also known as the Teflon Don for successfully dodging prosecutors for years in a succession of unsuccessful trials. But whereas Gotti sought out the limelight with flashy accoutrements and flamboyant fashions, Massino preferred the safety of anonymity.