Someone once said that New York gangsters are basically teenage girls with guns. Looked at from the proper angle, it does seem there is something particularly adolescent about a group of grown men for whom gossip, betrayal and a hair-trigger sense of loyalty runs deep in the blood.
Take, for instance, Vincent Basciano, the former hair salon owner and former acting boss of the Bonanno crime family, whose jailers — not coincidentally — once accused him of having an “unusual sophistication” at passing notes. In a legal dust-up that, beyond its violent elements, could have taken place in the girls’ locker room after field hockey practice, Mr. Basciano has accused a man, who once accused him of murder, of trying to implicate him in a phony plot to take the man’s life.
That probably bears repeating with a bit more explanation.
The trouble started in July when Mr. Basciano (known as “Vinnie Gorgeous” because of the hair salon he used to own) and his former best friend, Dominick Cicale, were both inmates at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the huge federal jail in Lower Manhattan. Mr. Basciano was being held there during his racketeering trial in Brooklyn on charges of, among other things, having killed a gangland wannabe named Frank Santoro. Mr. Cicale, who pleaded guilty to racketeering in the same case, had double-crossed him and was, at that point, a main government witness at the trial.
According to court papers filed Tuesday evening, Mr. Cicale — in what some described as an attempt to get his former friend into further trouble with the law — reached out to a handful of fellow inmates in the super-secure witness section of the jail and asked them to tell the authorities that Mr. Basciano had recruited them through a jail guard to murder Mr. Cicale. Even the government acknowledges that there was no real plot beyond the vengeful, imaginary one that Mr. Cicale sought to pin on his onetime friend.
Ephraim Savitt, Mr. Basciano’s lawyer, said Mr. Cicale may also have been trying to get out of jail by hatching the phony plot. “What he was trying to convey was that there’s no place within the prison system that’s safe for him,” Mr. Savitt said. “I think he wants to convince the government and the court to let him out of jail to some undisclosed location.”
It was Mr. Savitt, in his legal papers, who first brought the plot to the court’s attention. He is hoping the allegations against Mr. Cicale will taint him to the point the judge in the case, Nicholas G. Garaufis of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, will grant Mr. Basciano a new trial. Mr. Basciano was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and racketeering at the trial, which ended in July, largely on the basis of Mr. Cicale’s testimony.
To further discredit Mr. Cicale, Mr. Savitt says an inmate from the jail has claimed that Mr. Cicale liked to order other inmates to “create mischief” and was known for “acting out.” He once told an inmate to throw water on the cable box, for instance, Mr. Savitt’s papers say. He also — on purpose — spilled his coffee on the kitchen floor.
The notes Mr. Basciano was accused of having passed in jail were mentioned in the defense’s recent filing to suggest that the government has a track record of watching its inmates closely and therefore must have known of Mr. Cicale’s plot. One of them was more momentous than your average teenage note, including as it did the names of five men the government says Mr. Basciano wished to kill. But, according to Mr. Basciano’s wife, Angela, who was interviewed by the government, the note was not a murder list but a “Santeria list.” She says that Mr. Basciano wanted to place the men — among them, a prosecutor and a federal judge — under a voodoo spell. Mrs. Basciano told the government that she went so far as to take the list to a “Santeria priestess” in the Bronx, court papers say.
Judge Garaufis has yet to rule on Mr. Savitt’s request for a new trial, which is contained in the court papers that are full of the he-said, he-said back-and-forth that makes up a large part of Mafia talk. One paragraph, in particular, catches the flavor. The names involved are less important than the air of gossipy disagreement.
“Cicale testified that Anthony ‘Bruno’ Indelicato initially was the person who called him about a ‘piece of work’ in which Cicale could ‘make his bones’ by killing Frank Santoro. Yet, P. J. Pisciotti testified that Indelicato told him that he was surprised to hear, just prior to the murder, that Santoro would be killed and that, in his view, it was a mistake to kill Santoro. Cicale testified that he had enlisted P. J. Pisciotti to kill Michael Mancuso and throw him off a boat. Pisciotti testified that, to the contrary, there was never a plan to kill Mancuso and throw him off a boat.”
Thanks to Alan Feuer
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