The Chicago Syndicate: How Joseph Massino Exposed the Ugly Truth About "Vinny Gorgeous"

Friday, May 20, 2011

How Joseph Massino Exposed the Ugly Truth About "Vinny Gorgeous"

A New York City mobster who is serving a life sentence for attempted murder could become the first mafia boss to face the death penalty after being convicted in a case accusing him of ordering a gangland killing to cement his rise to power in the Bonanno organised crime family.

A Brooklyn jury had deliberated for four days in the death penalty case before finding tough-talking Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano guilty of murder, racketeering, conspiracy and other charges on Monday.

The jury, after being swayed by wiretaps and a series of low-level mob witnesses, will reconvene next week to decide whether Basciano, 51, will get another life term or execution by lethal injection.

The federal trial of the one-time owner of the Hello Gorgeous beauty salon featured testimony by former Bonanno boss Joseph Massino, who made another first in this trial, by becoming the first boss to testify against one of their own.

Massino, 68, began talking with investigators after his 2004 conviction for orchestrating a quarter-century's worth of murder, racketeering and other crimes as he rose through the Bonanno ranks.

He is serving two consecutive life terms for eight murders. He testified his cooperation spared his wife from prosecution, allowed her to keep their home and gave him a shot at a reduced sentence.

By cooperating, he told jurors he was violating a sacred oath he took during a 1977 induction ceremony to protect the secret society. It was understood, he said, that "once a bullet leaves that gun, you never talk about it".

The bloodshed revealed by Massino's testimony includes the shotgun slayings of three rival captains and the execution of a mobster who vouched for FBI undercover agent Donnie Brasco in the 1980s.

While imprisoned together in 2005, the former Bonanno boss agreed to wear a wire and betray Basciano, a gangster known for his meticulously groomed hair, sharp suits and hot temper. Before trial, Basciano won approval to have access to five different suits to wear to court – one for each day of the week.

Jurors heard one recording of Basciano boasting, "I'm a hoodlum, I'm a tough guy. Whatever happens, happens. Let's go."

The tape was evidence that the defendant is "a cold-blooded remorseless killer," Assistant US Attorney Stephen Frank said in his closing argument.

Prosecutors alleged that Basciano – while seizing control of the Bonannos as acting boss in 2004 after Massino was jailed – orchestrated the killing of mob associate Randolph Pizzolo. The slaying was payback for a drunken tirade by Pizzolo demanding induction into the family.

Thanks to Richard Hall and Tom Hays

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