A Mafia boss who turned informant on one of New York's notorious five families - and pleaded guilty to 11 murders - has been sensationally sentenced to 'time served' today.
Salvatore Vitale, 63, immediately cooperated with the FBI and prosecutors after his arrest and imprisonment in January 2003.
He identified more than 500 gangsters and helped convict more than 50 - including his brother-in-law and former Bonanno chief Joseph Massino.
Today's sentence will mean that Vitale will have served around 18 months for each of his 11 murders.
It is expected that he will immediately enter the witness protection programme
'Quite simply, Vitale has likely been the most important cooperator in the history of law enforcement efforts to prosecute the Mafia,' said Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis, of United States District Court in Brooklyn, when he meted out the sentence today.
Judge Garaufis noted that the criminal justice system was 'dependent on the cooperation of criminals in the prosecution of other criminals'. He added: 'This cooperation does not come without a cost.' The judge noted that he was under no illusion that Vitale had become a government witness for any reason other than self-preservation, noting that he did so only when he realised that the crime family had come to see him as a liability.
The judge said: 'It is unfortunate that law enforcement must, of necessity, obtain the cooperation of felons to address the pernicious crimes committed by organised crime,' the judge said. 'But without the benefit of cooperating witnesses like the defendant, the government’s ability to prosecute the secretive and rule-bound world of organised crime would be greatly impaired.'
In October 2004, information he gave to federal officers led to the discovery of three bodies in Ozone Park, Queens.
Vitale’s lawyers, Kenneth Murphy and Brian Waller, had pushed for the sentence to be 'time served'.
Vitale had been facing life in prison.
In a bid to put Vitale away for good, prosecutor Greg Andres read aloud letters sent to the judge from the wife and daughter of one of the victims. Robert Perrino was a Bonanno associate who was the superintendent of deliveries at The New York Post and who was slain in 1992. Vitale ordered the killing based on the fear that Perrino might cooperate with the authorities. Perrino’s body was not found until Vitale himself began cooperating with police. Perrino'd widow Rosalie wrote: 'As a result of Salvatore Vitale’s criminal inhuman behaviour, my grandson never knew his grandfather, and he and our granddaughter have grown up without this special man. 'Salvatore Vitale caused my own life to unravel and the colour in my life to drain away.'
Vitale alternately stared at the table before him and watched the judge as Mr Andres read the letter.
At the end of the hearing, the judge asked the people in the gallery to remain seated so deputy United States marshals could escort Vitale out of the courtroom. He left through the courtroom’s rear door, beside the judge’s bench, and did not look back.
It is not the first time Mafia informants have been given lesser sentences for information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of their bosses. Salvatore Gravano, an underboss for the Gambino family known as 'Sammy the Bull', admitted to 19 murders in 1991 in exchange for a lesser sentence and served just five years.
As part of his testimony, notorious gangster John Gotti was jailed for life.
Vitale, wearing a blue suit and silver pattered tie, twice dabbed tears from his eyes during the court proceeding - and exhaled sharply just before the judge read out the sentence.
The former paratrooper - known as Good Looking Sal' during his three decades committing countless crimes on behalf of the Bonanno family - read from a statement where he apologised to the families of his victims.
He said: 'I would say to them that I pray daily for my victims’ souls and I’m truly sorry. I stand in front of you, your honour, ashamed of the life I used to live. 'I disgraced my father’s name, my name, my sons’ name.'
Vitale operated at the highest levels of organised crime while a member of La Cosa Nostra, and knew many of the Bonanno secrets - including quite literally where bodies were buried.
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