The Chicago Syndicate: Joseph Bonanno
Showing posts with label Joseph Bonanno. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joseph Bonanno. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Top 10: Gangsters

If you browse around your local video store, you'll notice dozens of films about the Mafia. Witness the popularity of Goodfellas, The Godfather, Casino, and Bugsy. Why have so many films been made about these tough-guy hooligans? Because men have a fascination with gangster culture and organized crime. But who are some of the most notorious gangsters of all time?

To make the list, gangsters must have had a significant impact on the Mob thanks to the way they did business. They must have done most of their business in America, their legacy must have stood the test of time, and they must have had a significant impact on pop culture.

Honorable Mention
Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel (1906 - 1947)

Benjamin Siegel was born in Brooklyn in 1906 and soon associated himself with fellow Jew Meyer Lansky. After running contract killings for Murder, Inc., Siegel -- who was nicknamed "Bugsy" because of his unpredictable nature -- went in cahoots with Lucky Luciano and his newly organized Syndicate. But killing for Luciano earned him enemies, and in the late '30s, he was forced to escape to Los Angeles, where he had lived glamorously with movie stars.

He then discovered the gambling laws of Nevada. "Borrowing" millions from the Syndicate, he established one of the first casino hotels in Las Vegas, the Flamingo. But the resort was losing money, and when it was discovered in 1947 that he had stolen money from his friends, he was killed.

Featured in: The best portrayals of Siegel are in Warren Beatty's Bugsy  (1991) and The Marrying Man (1991) with Armand Assante.

Number 10
Vincent "The Chin" Gigante (1928 - 2005)
Born in New York in 1928, Vincent Gigante was quite a character. He dropped out of high school in the ninth grade and started boxing, winning 21 of 25 light-heavyweight bouts. By the time he was 17, he had turned to crime to support himself, which resulted in seven arrests before he was 25.

Gigante's first significant act as a gangster and member of the Genovese family was an attempt to kill the powerful Frank Costello, but Gigante's bullet missed the target. Nevertheless, he continued to climb the ranks within New York's Genovese organization, eventually becoming a capo and consigliere in the early '80s.

Then, when Mob boss Tony Salerno was convicted, Gigante became the main man. What makes Gigante so memorable is his 30-year ploy of acting insane. After he successfully averted prison in the late '60s by employing psychiatrists to testify to his insanity, he took it upon himself to continue the act; throughout his career, he was often seen walking around the streets of New York wearing a bathrobe. For this reason, he was nicknamed the "Oddfather" and the "Pajama King." Imprisoned for racketeering, he finally admitted in 2003 that he was not crazy.

Gigante died in prison on December 19, 2005 due to heart complications. The Gigante family and his lawyer, Flora Edwards, filed a federal lawsuit regarding the lack of health care that Vincent received while in prison. Vincent was scheduled for release in 2010.

Featured in: Gigante was a character in the made-for-TV film Bonanno: A Godfather's Story (1999) and served as inspiration for an episode of Law & Order.

Number 9
Albert Anastasia (1903 - 1957)
Born in Tropea, Italy in 1903, Albert Anastasia was still a teenager when he came to America. Involved in the docks operations in Brooklyn, Anastasia was sent to Sing Sing Prison for 18 months for the murder of a longshoreman; the mysterious deaths of witnesses led to his early release. Albert Anastasia (aka "Lord High Executioner" and "Mad Hatter") was known as a killer, a reputation that led Joe Masseria's gang to recruit him. Anastasia was also extremely loyal to Charles "Lucky" Luciano, who had plans to rule America's crime world. Anastasia had no problem betraying Masseria -- by being one of four people sent to kill him in 1931 -- when approached by Lucky Luciano.

At this time, Anastasia started taking on hits for the Murder, Incorporated outfit in New York, and in 1944, he became the leader of the murder squad. Although Anastasia was never prosecuted for any killings, Murder, Inc. was responsible for between 400 and 700 murders. In the '50s, he became the leader of the Luciano family, but Carlo Gambino wanted the job. Though the murder is officially unsolved, many believe that Gambino had Anastasia killed in a barbershop in 1957.

Featured in: Albert Anastasia was a prominent character in Murder, Inc. (1960), a gangster film starring Peter Falk and Howard Smith (as Anastasia), as well as in The Valachi Papers (1972) and Lepke (1975).

Number 8
Joseph Bonanno (1905 - 2002)
Born in 1905, Joe Bonanno grew up in his native Sicily and became an orphan at the age of 15. He left Italy due to the fascist power of the Mussolini regime and made a brief stopover in Cuba before moving to the United States when he was 19. Joe joined the Mafia as a way to prevent Mussolini from taking over Sicily. Nicknamed "Joey Bananas," he joined forces with Salvatore Maranzano. Before Luciano killed him, Maranzano created The Commission, the ruling body over Mafia families in the entire country.

Bonanno stepped up and took over one of these families. He became powerful in New York with cheese factories, clothing businesses and funeral homes, which were a terrific way to dispose of bodies. But plans to eliminate all the rival families turned against him and Bonanno was kidnapped for 19 days until he agreed to retire. In 1965, he initiated the Banana War to settle scores, but he retired for good soon thereafter due to bad health. Never in his life was he convicted of a serious offense.

Featured in: Two cable movies have been made about the crime legend: Love, Honor & Obey: The Last Mafia Marriage (1993) with Ben Gazzara and Bonanno: A Godfather's Story (1999) with Martin Landau.

Number 7
Dutch Schultz (1902 - 1935)
Arthur Flegenheimer, later known as Dutch Schultz, was born in the Bronx in 1902. As a teenager, he held up crap games to impress his boss and mentor, Marcel Poffo. At the age of 17, he did some time at Blackwell's Island (now known as Roosevelt Island) for theft. With prohibition in full swing in the 1920s, he realized that money was in bootlegging. A ruthless man, he would kill whenever his temper flared, which helped keep his competition in line.

He had a part in the founding of the Syndicate, but soon Luciano and Capone became his enemies. In 1933, the law wanted to shut down Schultz, so he went into hiding in New Jersey, which left his New York territory free for a takeover; Luciano seized the opportunity. Schultz made a comeback in 1935, but members of Albert Anastasia's crew killed him in a restaurant men's room before he could do any damage.

Featured in: Dustin Hoffman was memorable as Dutch Schultz in Billy Bathgate (1991), but Tim Roth was even better in Hoodlum (1997). Other movies featuring Schultz include Gangster Wars (1981), The Cotton Club (1984) and The Natural (1984).

Number 6
John Gotti (1940 - 2002)
In the wake of the great gangsters who ruled New York, John Gotti had his work cut out for him. Born in Brooklyn in 1940, he was always quick with his fists and it was his life's dream to become a wiseguy. By the age of 16, he had joined a local street gang known as the Fulton-Rockaway Boys. He quickly became their leader, stealing cars and fencing stolen goods. In the '60s, he began associating with Mafia hoods and hijacking trucks. In the early '70s, he became a capo for the Bergin crew, a part of the Gambino family. Extremely ambitious, Gotti started to deal drugs, which was forbidden by family rules.

As a result, Paul Castellano, the Boss, wished to expel Gotti from the organization. In 1985, Gotti and his guys killed Castellano outside a steakhouse and Gotti took over the Gambino family. No matter how many times the authorities tried to indict him for being the most powerful criminal in New York, the charges were always dropped. Because of this -- and the fact that he dressed well and loved media attention -- he was nicknamed "The Dapper Don" and "The Teflon Don." He was finally convicted for murder in 1992 and died of cancer in prison in 2002.

Featured in: He was played by Anthony John Denison in the made-for-TV movie Getting Gotti (1994) and by Armand Assante in the HBO event Gotti (1996). Other TV movies featuring him include Witness to the Mob (1998) with Tom Sizemore and The Big Heist (2001).

Number 5
Meyer Lansky (1902 - 1983)

Born Maier Suchowljansky in Russia to Jewish parents in 1902, Lansky moved to New York when he was 9. He met Charles Luciano when they were just schoolboys. Luciano demanded protection money from Lansky, and when he refused to pay, the two boys fought. Impressed by Lansky's toughness, Luciano befriended the younger boy and the two remained lifelong friends. Lansky also met Bugsy Siegel when he was a teenager, and the three formed a powerful partnership. Lansky and Siegel formed the Bug and Meyer Mob, which became Murder, Inc.

Lansky's primary order of business was money and gambling, and he had operations in Florida, Cuba and New Orleans. He was an investor in Siegel's Las Vegas casino, and he even bought an offshore bank in Switzerland that was used for money laundering. A financial genius, he codeveloped the National Crime Syndicate and the Commission. But business is never personal, and he approved the murder of his best friend Bugsy Siegel when Siegel was unable to produce profits for the Syndicate. Even with a gambling racket in operation across the planet, Lansky never spent a day in jail.

Featured in: Not only did Richard Dreyfuss give a powerful performance in HBO's Lansky (1999), but the character of Hyman Roth in The Godfather, Part II (1974) was loosely based on him as well. The role was also played by Mark Rydell in Havana (1990), Patrick Dempsey in Mobsters (1991) and Ben Kingsley in Bugsy (1991).

Number 4
Frank Costello (1891 - 1973)
Francesco Castiglia was born in 1891 in Italy and moved to the United States with his family when he was 4. He changed his name to Frank Costello when he joined a street gang at age 13. After numerous petty crimes landed him in prison, he became best friends with Charlie Luciano; together, they dealt in bootlegging and gambling. Costello's strength was his position as a link between the Mob and politicians, especially the Democratic Party's Tammany Hall in New York, which enabled him and his associates to pay off certain officials.

Following Luciano's arrest, Costello became the man in charge, and he solidified and expanded the operation during this time. A power struggle between him and Vito Genovese (who served as Underboss) erupted in the '50s, and Vincent Gigante tried to kill Costello. Eventually, Costello grew tired of the gangster life and retired, but not before framing Genovese and Gigante for a drug bust. He died peacefully in 1973.

Featured in: The man was best portrayed by James Andronica in the 1981 miniseries The Gangster Chronicles, by Costas Mandylor in Mobsters (1991), by Carmine Caridi in Bugsy (1991), and by Jack Nicholson in The Departed (2006). (The author is actually incorrect about Jack Nicholson playing the real Frank Costello in The Departed. Only the character name was in common with the real Frank Costello. Nicholson's character was mostly based upon another gangster, Whitey Bulger.)

Number 3
Carlo Gambino (1902 - 1976)
Carlo Gambino came from a family that had been part of the Mafia for centuries in Italy. He started carrying out murders when he was a teenager and became a made guy in 1921 at the age of 19. With Mussolini gaining power, he immigrated to America, where his cousin Paul Castellano lived. He became a thug for different New York families until he joined Lucky Luciano's crew.

After Luciano was extradited in the '40s, Albert Anastasia took over. But Gambino thought it was his time to shine and had Anastasia killed in 1957. He appointed himself Boss of the family and reigned with an iron fist over New York until his natural death in 1976.

Featured in: Al Ruscio played him beautifully in the TNT movie Boss of Bosses(2001). Other "Gambino" appearances include the made-for-TV movies Between Love & Honor (1995), Gotti (1996) and Bonanno: A Godfather's Story (1999).

Number 2
Charlie "Lucky" Luciano (1897 - 1962)

Salvatore Lucania was born in Sicily in 1897, but his family moved to New York nine years later. At a young age, he became a member of the Five Points gang, in which Al Capone also received his education. Five years after establishing an empire based mostly on prostitution, Luciano controlled the racket all over Manhattan. After a failed but brutal attack on his life in 1929, Luciano started planning the National Crime Syndicate, an extension of Salvatore Maranzano's Commission, with Meyer Lansky.

They eliminated the competition, and by 1935, Lucky Luciano was known as the Boss of Bosses -- not just of New York City, but of the whole country. He was arrested and sentenced to 30 to 50 years in 1936, but was let out on parole in 1946 on the condition that he be deported to Italy. He had so much power that U.S. Navy intelligence sought his help when the Allies were set to invade Italy during World War II. He died of a heart attack in 1962.

Featured in: Christian Slater played him in Mobsters (1991), as did Bill Graham in Bugsy (1991) and Anthony LaPaglia in the TV film Lansky (1999).

Number 1
Al Capone (1899 - 1947)
If there ever was a gangster who earned the No. 1 spot, it is Al Capone. Alphonse Capone was born in 1899 to Italian immigrants in Brooklyn, New York, where he got his start in street gangs. He then joined the Five Points gang and became a bouncer. It was during these days that a series of facial wounds earned him the "Scarface" nickname. Capone moved to Chicago in 1919 and quickly moved up the Mafia hierarchy while working for Johnny Torrio (Capone became Torrio's protege).

It was the time of the Prohibition, and Capone ran prostitution, gambling and bootlegging rings. In 1925, at the age of 26, Capone took over after Torrio was wounded in a gang war. Known for his intelligence, flamboyance and love of public attention, Capone was also known to be very violent; his role in the orchestration of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929, in which key rival gangsters were murdered, proves this. In 1931, Federal Treasury agent Eliot Ness arrested him for tax evasion.

Featured in: Many movies have been made about Capone, but the most famous are probably The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967) with Jason Robards, Capone (1975) with Ben Gazzara and The Untouchables (1987) with Robert De Niro.

Thanks to Matthew Simpson

Monday, January 30, 2017

How the Mafia Dealt with J. Edgar Hoover?

Excerpt from Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, by Anthony Summers:

To Costello, and to his associate Meyer Lansky, the ability to corrupt politicians, policemen and judges was fundamental to Mafia operations. It was Lansky's expertise in such corruption that made him the nearest there ever was to a true national godfather of organized crime.

Another Mafia boss, Joseph Bonanno, articulated the principles of the game. It was a strict underworld rule, he said, never to use violent means against a law enforcement officer. "Ways could be found," he said in his memoirs, "so that he would not interfere with us and we wouldn't interfere with him." The way the Mafia found to deal with Edgar, according to several mob sources, involved his homosexuality.

The mob bosses had been well placed to find out about Edgar's compromising secret, and at a significant time and place. It was on New Year's Eve 1936, after dinner at the Stork Club, that Edgar was seen by two of Walter Winchell's guests holding hands with his lover, Clyde. At the Stork, where he was a regular, Edgar was immensely vulnerable to observation by mobsters. The heavyweight champion Jim Braddock, who also dined with Edgar and Clyde that evening, was controlled by Costello's associate Owney Madden. Winchell, as compulsive a gossip in private as he was in his column, constantly cultivated Costello. Sherman Billingsley, the former bootlegger who ran the Stork, reportedly installed two-way mirrors in the toilets and hidden microphones at tables used by celebrities. Billingsley was a pawn of Costello's, and Costello was said to be the club's real owner. He would have had no compunction about persecuting Edgar, and he loathed homosexuals.

Seymour Pollack, a close friend of Meyer Lansky, said in 1990 that Edgar's homosexuality was "common knowledge" and that he had seen evidence of it for himself. "I used to meet him at the racetrack every once in a while with lover boy Clyde, in the late forties and fifties. I was in the next box once. And when you see two guys holding hands, well come on! ... They were surreptitious, but there was no question about it."

Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno, the highest-ranking mobster ever to have "turned" and testified against his former associates, was at the track in 1948 when Frank Bompensiero, a notorious West Coast mafioso, taunted Edgar to his face. "I pointed at this fella sitting in the box in front," Fratianno recalled, "and said, 'Hey, Bomp, lookit there, it's J. Edgar Hoover.' And Bomp says right out loud, so everyone can hear, 'Ah, that J. Edgar's a punk, he's a fuckin' degenerate queer.'"

Later, when Bompensiero ran into Edgar in the men's room, the FBI Director was astonishingly meek. "Frank," he told the mobster, "that's not a nice way to talk about me, especially when I have people with me." It was clear to Fratianno that Bompensiero had met Edgar before and that he had absolutely no fear of Edgar.

Fratianno knew numerous other top mobsters, including Jack and Louis Dragna of Los Angeles and Johnny Roselli, the West Coast representative of the Chicago mob. All spoke of "proof" that Edgar was homosexual. Roselli spoke specifically of the occasion in the late twenties when Edgar had been arrested on charges of homosexuality in New Orleans. Edgar could hardly have chosen a worse city in which to be compromised. New Orleans police and city officials were notoriously corrupt, puppets of an organized crime network run by Mafia boss Carlos Marcello and heavily influenced by Meyer Lansky. If the homosexual arrest occurred, it is likely the local mobsters quickly learned of it.

Other information suggests Meyer Lansky obtained hard proof of Edgar's homosexuality and used it to neutralize the FBI as a threat to his own operations. The first hint came from Irving "Ash" Resnick, the Nevada representative of the Patriarca family from New England, and an original owner-builder of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. As a high-level mob courier, he traveled extensively. In Miami Beach, his Christmas destination in the fifties, he stayed at the Gulfstream, in a bungalow next to one used by Edgar and Clyde. "I'd sit with him on the beach every day," Resnick remembered. "We were friendly."

In 1971, Resnick and an associate talked with the writer Pete Hamill in the Galeria Bar at Caesars Palace. They spoke of Meyer Lansky as a genius, the man who "put everything together" -- and as the man who "nailed J. Edgar Hoover." "When I asked what they meant," Hamill recalled, "they told me Lansky had some pictures -- pictures of Hoover in some kind of gay situation with Clyde Tolson. Lansky was the guy who controlled the pictures, and he had made his deal with Hoover -- to lay off. That was the reason, they said, that for a long time they had nothing to fear from the FBI."

Seymour Pollack, the criminal who saw Edgar and Clyde holding hands at the races, knew both Resnick and Lansky well. When Lansky's daughter had marital problems, it was Pollack who dealt with her husband. He and Lansky went back to the old days in pre-revolutionary Cuba, when Havana was as important to the syndicate as Las Vegas. "Meyer," said Pollack in 1990, "was closemouthed. I don't think he even discussed the details of the Hoover thing with his brother. But Ash was absolutely right. Lansky had more than information on Hoover. He had page, chapter and verse. One night, when we were sitting around in his apartment at the Rosita de Hornedo, we were talking about Hoover, and Meyer laughed and said, 'I fixed that son of a bitch, didn't I?'" Lansky's fix, according to Pollack, also involved bribery -- not of Edgar himself, but men close to him.

Lansky and Edgar frequented the same watering holes in Florida. Staff at Gatti's restaurant in Miami Beach recall that the mobster would sometimes be in the restaurant, at another table, at the same time as Edgar and Clyde. One evening in the late sixties, they were seated at adjoining tables. "But they just looked at one another," recalled Edidio Crolla, the captain at Gatti's. "They never talked, not here."

If Edgar's eyes met Lansky's, though, there was surely an involuntary flicker of fear. "The homosexual thing," said Pollack, "was Hoover's Achilles' heel. Meyer found it, and it was like he pulled strings with Hoover. He never bothered any of Meyer's people.... Let me go way back. The time Nevada opened up, Bugsy Siegel opened the Flamingo. I understand Hoover helped get the okay for him to do it. Meyer Lansky was one of the partners. Hoover knew who the guys were that whacked Bugsy Siegel, but nothing was done." (Siegel was killed, reportedly on Lansky's orders, in 1947.)

According to Pollack, Lansky and Edgar cooperated in the mid-fifties, when Las Vegas casino operator Wilbur Clark moved to Cuba. "Meyer brought Clark down to Havana," Pollack said. "I was against him coming. But I understand Hoover asked Meyer to bring Clark down. He owed Clark something. I don't know what.... There was no serious pressure on Meyer until the Kennedys came in. And even then Hoover never hurt Meyer's people, not for a long time."

Like Frank Costello, Lansky did seem to be untouchable -- a phenomenon that triggered suspicions even within the Bureau. "In 1966," noted Hank Messick, one of Lansky's biographers, "a young G-Man assigned to go through the motions of watching Meyer Lansky began to take his job seriously and develop good informers. He was abruptly transferred to a rural area in Georgia. His successor on the Lansky assignment was an older man who knew the score. When he retired a few years later, he accepted a job with a Bahamian gambling casino originally developed by Lansky."

Also in the sixties a wiretap picked up a conversation between two mobsters in which, curiously, Lansky was referred to as "a stool pigeon for the FBI." The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, taping a conversation between a criminal in Canada and Lansky in the United States, were amazed to hear the mob chieftain reading from an FBI report that had been written the previous day.

There was no serious federal effort to indict Lansky until 1970, just two years before Edgar died. Then, it was the IRS rather than the FBI that spearheaded the investigation. Even the tax evasion charges collapsed, and Lansky lived on at liberty until his own death in 1983.

New information indicates that Lansky was not the only person in possession of compromising photographs of Edgar. John Weitz, a former officer in the OSS, the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, recalled a curious episode at a dinner party in the fifties. "After a conversation about Hoover," he said, "our host went to another room and came back with a photograph. It was not a good picture and was clearly taken from some distance away, but it showed two men apparently engaged in homosexual activity. The host said the men were Hoover and Tolson...."

Since first publication of this book, Weitz has revealed that his host was James Angleton, a fellow OSS veteran and -- in the fifties -- a top CIA officer. A source who has been linked to the CIA, electronics expert Gordon Novel, has said Angleton showed him, too, compromising pictures of Edgar.

"What I saw was a picture of him giving Clyde Tolson a blowjob," said Novel. "There was more than one shot, but the startling one was a close shot of Hoover's head. He was totally recognizable. You could not see the face of the man he was with, but Angleton said it was Tolson. I asked him if they were fakes, but he said they were real, that they'd been taken with a special lens. They looked authentic to me...."

Novel said Angleton showed him the pictures in 1967, when he was CIA Counter-Intelligence Chief and when Novel was involved in the furor swirling around the probe into the investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison. "I was pursuing a lawsuit against Garrison, which Hoover wanted me to drop but which my contacts in the Johnson administration and at CIA wanted me to pursue. I'd been told I would incur Hoover's wrath if I went ahead, but Angleton was demonstrating that Hoover was not invulnerable, that the Agency had enough power to make him come to heel. I had the impression that this was not the first time the sex pictures had been used. Angleton told me to go see Hoover and tell him I'd seen the sex photographs. Later, I went to the Mayflower Hotel and spoke to Hoover. He was with Tolson, sitting in the Rib Room. When I mentioned that I had seen the sex photographs, and that Angleton had sent me, Tolson nearly choked on his food. Hoover told me something like, 'Get the hell out of here!' And I did...."

With Angleton dead, there is no way to follow up this bizarre allegation. While Novel is a controversial figure, his account of seeing compromising pictures must be considered in light of other such references -- not least that of former OSS officer John Weitz. For Novel added one other significant detail, that "Angleton told me the photographs had been taken around 1946, at the time they were fighting over foreign intelligence, which Hoover wanted but never got."

During his feud with OSS chief William Donovan, dating back to 1941, Edgar had searched for compromising information, sexual lapses included, that could be used against his rival.

His effort was in vain, but Donovan -- who thought Edgar a "moralistic bastard" -- reportedly retaliated in kind by ordering a secret investigation of Edgar's relationship with Clyde. The sex photograph in OSS hands may have been one of the results.

It may be significant, too, that compromising pictures are reported as having been in the hands of both the OSS and Meyer Lansky. The OSS and Naval Intelligence had extensive contacts with the Mafia during World War II, enlisting the help of criminals in projects including the hiring of burglars and assassins, experimentation with drugs, the protection of American ports from Nazi agents and the invasion of Sicily. Lansky helped personally with the latter two operations, meeting with Murray Gurfein, a New York Assistant District Attorney who later became one of Donovan's most trusted OSS officers.

At least once, Lansky worked alongside U.S. intelligence officers on exactly the sort of operation likely to turn up smear material on prominent public men. In 1942, he arranged for the surveillance of a homosexual brothel Brooklyn suspected of being the target of German agents. "Clients came from all over New York and Washington, Lansky recalled, "and there were some important government people among them .... If you got hold of the names of the patrons you could blackmail them to death... some pictures through a hole in the wall or a trick mirror and then squeeze the victim for money or information."

There is no knowing, today, whether the OSS obtained sex photographs of Edgar from Lansky, or vice versa, or whether the mobster obtained them on his own initiative. A scenario in which Lansky obtained pictures thanks to the OSS connection would suggest an irony: that Edgar had tried and failed to find smear material on General Donovan, that Donovan in turn found smear material on him and that the material found its way to a top mobster, to be used against Edgar for the rest of his life.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Mafia Book Not So Easy to Forget About: The Last Godfather: The Rise and Fall of Joey Massino

Sometimes "forget about it" means just that - forget about it.

In the case of The Last Godfather: The Rise and Fall of Joey Massino, forget about it - it's a must-read for mafia nuts everywhere.

The book has everything a fan of "The Sopranos" could possibly desire: murder, mayhem and a plethora of shady characters with colorful names like Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero, Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano and "Patty Muscles."

The story concerns the rise to power and eventual downfall of Joseph Massino, a capo in the Bonanno crime family, one of the infamous five families of New York. After eliminating his rivals, Massino became capo di tutti capi, boss of bosses. At one point he had over 100 men and was involved in every conceivable racket, everything from "pump and dump" stock market schemes to good old loan sharking. After the FBI cracked down on organized crime in the '80s, he was the last don walking the streets.

And then it all came tumbling down, due in part to the infiltration of the family by FBI agent Joseph "Donnie Brasco" Pistone.

The Bonannos - named after Joseph "Joey Bananas" Bonanno - boasted an impressive track record of never having had a rat in their midst. During its nearly 100-year existence, members would often go to the electric chair before dishonoring the family. This was part of omerta, the conspiracy of silence, that made the Mafia so successful. But by the late '90s, the honor among thieves had largely dissolved. High-ranking members were ready to jump ship and sell out their compatriots rather than face brutally long stints in prison. One by one, Massino's capos turned on him, ratting him out for the murder of Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato, an infamous mob murder dramatized in the film "Donnie Brasco."

If this sounds like a lot of back story, it isn't. The book jumps back and forth between courtroom testimony and an account of the family's activities in the late '70s and early '80s. The story involves hundreds of people and dozens of murders, and a dizzying amount of shadiness.

The book, while fascinating, is written rather poorly. It's sentences are clunky, and the author usually explains his rather elementary metaphors. This is mildly insulting to one's intelligence, but the story is fascinating enough to leave the bad writing as little more than a minor irritation. If you need something to while away the nearly eternal dead space between "Sopranos" episodes, this book has you covered.

Thanks to John Bear

Friday, June 26, 2015

National Geographic Channel Infiltrates Centuries of Deadly Secrets INSIDE THE MAFIA

Four-Hour Series Pierces Inner Workings and Violent History of the Criminal Corporation With Global Reach

Through a pop culture lens, the notorious and mysterious Mafia is typically seen as entertainment: The Godfather; The Sopranos; Goodfellas; Donnie Brasco. Now the National Geographic Channel (NGC) exposes the dramatic history and infiltrates the legendary secrecy of one of the world's most powerful criminal organizations in the four-hour world premiere event, INSIDE THE MAFIA.

Narrated by Ray Liotta -- star of the film Goodfellas -- INSIDE THE MAFIA will premiere Monday, June 13 and Tuesday, June 14, 2005 from 9 to 11 pm. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel (encore Sunday, June 19 from 7 to 11 p.m. ET). Four programs -- Mafia? What Mafia?, Going Global, The Great Betrayal and The Godfathers -- chronologically trace the growth of the U.S. and Sicilian Mafias, as well as the determined American and Italian efforts to stop it.

"It's not personal; it's just business" is a popular catchphrase attributed to the Mafia's code of honor. And big business it is -- its global assets were on par with some of the richest corporations in the world, bursting for a time with billions in annual profits derived from much of the world's drug trade.

With remarkable access to FBI and DEA agents as well as members of crime families, INSIDE THE MAFIA provides the complete behind-the-scenes story of this powerful enterprise known for its ruthlessness and brutality.

Featured are new and original interviews with influential mobsters like Henry Hill, portrayed by Ray Liotta in Goodfellas, and Gambino family soldier Dominick Montiglio, and, on the law enforcement side, Joseph Pistone, the fearless real-life FBI agent who infiltrated the Mafia as "Donnie Brasco," and DEA undercover agent Frank Panessa, among many others.

Cutthroat deals, gangland assassinations and secret rituals within the infamous global mob are described by these insiders in intimate detail. "The bathroom door was slightly open and there were two bodies hanging with their throats cut," said Montiglio. "Everyone had butcher's kits and they sawed off everything ... chopped off the head, arms, etcetera. Then put them in a box and took 'em to the dumpster. Suffice to say, none of them were ever found."

In addition to inside access to important characters and events, the special uses contemporary and archival news footage, FBI and Italian police surveillance, telephone intercepts, transcriptions from major Mafia trials and dramatic reenactments of clandestine meetings and violent confrontations.

INSIDE THE MAFIA interweaves two parallel stories. The first is the emergence of a "new Mafia" after a historic deal between American and Italian mob families to control the international heroin trade. The second is the tale of the strong anti-Mafia campaign, spearheaded by a small group of law officers determined to permanently undermine the culture and infrastructure of the Cosa Nostra.

Over the course of the series, viewers will become familiar with a core group of warring protagonists. In the Mafia are men like Charles "Lucky" Luciano, a Sicilian immigrant who by 1931 murdered his way to the top of the American Mafia; famous mob leader Joe Bonnano; Salvatore "Toto" Riina, who emerged in the 1980s as perhaps the most ruthless and violent Mafia boss ever; Tomasso Buscetta, whose decision to break the Mafia's strict code of silence set in motion a series of events giving U.S. and Italian authorities the upper hand in identifying and tracking key mobsters; reputed Mafia godfather John Gotti; and soldiers like Hill and Montiglio, whose tales of living and working inside the Mafia are gruesome and often shocking.

Fighting the Mafia are Giovanni Falcone, Italy's legendary prosecutor who challenged the Mafia's power and paid the ultimate price; Pistone ("Donnie Brasco") who still has a mob contract out on his life ("Once folks found out about my cover, there was a contract on me," he says in the program. "It's not something I think about all the time ... if it happens, it happens ... and may the best man win."); Giovanni Falcone's sister, Maria, who was privy to much of her brother's strategy and key events in his life; and lesser-known law officers with colorful and suspenseful inside stories, like Panessa and Carmine Russo, who shadowed the Bonnano crime family.

The rise of the modern Mafia is a gripping and often tragic tale of corruption, crime, murder and betrayal by two distinct operations -- the Sicilian Mafia, running multinational efforts from Palermo, and the American Mafia, controlling one of the biggest marketplaces in the world. Their separate but symbiotic relationship is one that perpetually eluded and confounded U.S. and Italian authorities.

In 1957, a police raid on a Mafia summit in upstate New York revealed to the nation evidence of "organized crime." However, the Cold War took priority at the time, and mob activity continued to thrive. Major breakthroughs in the 1980s cracked open the Mafia's highly lucrative drug trade, and exposed the global reach and immense profits of its dealings.

In the U.S. today, the mob's activities have been scaled back, particularly now that narcotics are distributed via different mobs from the Far East and South America. John Gotti's prosecution created a domino effect, crippling all five of the crime families of New York. They are now a shadow of an organization that once claimed politicians as their friends; however, as recent arrests have indicated, the Mafia continues to operate in some capacity in the U.S. In the past few months, New York authorities indicted 32 people after a two-and-half year "Donnie Brasco style" undercover sting, and 14 Chicago Mafia members were indicted in April, a move authorities claim shed light on 18 previously unsolved murders dating back to 1970.

In Sicily, the situation is very different. The Mafia has largely abandoned its policy of violence in order to avoid attracting the attention of the authorities; however, according to the chief prosecutor of Palermo, they are even more dangerous now that many people believe that the problem is in some way over.

The days of the Mafia's massive, unchecked drug-dealing have gone, but INSIDE THE MAFIA shows that the organization -- particularly its blueprint for how national and ethnic groups can operate on a global scale -- continues to be a thriving and insidious role model for racketeering everywhere.

INSIDE THE MAFIA is produced for NGC by Wall to Wall Media. Jonathan Hewes is executive in charge of production; Alex West is executive producer; Charlie Smith is producer. For NGC, CarolAnne Dolan is supervising producer; Michael Cascio is executive producer; John Ford is executive in charge of production.

Time to End Mob Stereotypes?

FIFTY-EIGHT YEARS AGO this fall, in the tiny town of Apalachin, near Binghamton, N.Y., Americans were unexpected guests at the coming-out party for organized crime. American popular culture has never been the same since then. Neither has the psyche of Italian-Americans.

The Apalachin conclave of 1957 was the final event in a series of truly Byzantine shifts and alliances in the world of organized crime. As the iconic "Godfather" film notes, there had been a great struggle in the mob over drug trafficking. By the spring of 1957, it had become nearly impossible to salvage the non-trafficking accord crafted by leaders some 10 years prior.

The key figure in the drama was Frank Costello, the flashy, debonair "prime minister," so-called for his political talents, who tried to maintain the sanction against drug dealing. He was allied with powerful leaders like Joe Bonanno and Albert Anastasia. However, others such as Vito Genovese favored narcotics trafficking as good business. As a result of many machinations, a contract was put out on Frank Costello in May, 1957. Most surprisingly, the attempt failed.

Costello retired from "office," but Albert Anastasia, once the CEO of Murder Incorporated, wished to hit Genovese. According to Bill Bonanno's book, Joe Bonanno convinced Anastasia to sit tight while he (Joe) was on a trip to Italy. On Oct. 25, 1957, while relaxing in a barber's chair, Anastasia was gunned down in what was the most famously reported and photographed mob hit ever.

This assassination was equivalent to a political coup d'etat. To prevent the chaos of all-out war, a number of diplomatic meetings were held to reestablish order: who would forego vengeance, who would sell drugs, how the syndicate would continue in the future. The Apalachin meeting was to be the last of these diplomatic congresses. But some good luck and some good police work put an end to the mob convention before it began. The group was dispersed, as were doubts about the existence of organized crime.

Since the coming out at Apalachin, the idea of an American Empire of Crime seized upon the popular imagination, and mob figures, books, TV dramas and movies became cultural icons. The TV show "The Untouchables," (1959-1963) portrayed Eliot Ness battling hundreds and hundreds of Italian-American gangsters. For America, it became clear that all Italian-Americans were mobsters and all mobsters were Italian-Americans.

Fortunately, Italian-Americans could proudly point to the fact that one (just one) of Ness' lieutenants was himself an Italian-American. Pheww!

This flat-out stereotyping found Italian-Americans powerless to resist it or change it.

With the release of "The Godfather" movies in 1972 and 1974, America was treated to a different view of organized crime and its Italian connections. The intense character portrayals and brilliant acting in these films made Italian-American crime lords sympathetic figures who exercised a favorable hold on the national imagination. For various reasons, movies about Louis Lepke (with Milton Berle), Bugsy Siegel and Dutch Schultz failed to create a similar standing for Jewish-American mobsters.

For the psyche of Italian-Americans, the result of the "Godfather" movies was truly schizophrenic. Should they condemn or admire the heroes of the films, even as the majority of Americans seemed to lionize them?

The release of HBO's hugely popular and successful drama "The Sopranos" brought organized crime into our living rooms, each episode willingly accepted and highly anticipated by the American public. The mobsters fleeing in the Apalachin countryside wound up safe at home in our living rooms and rec rooms!

Certifying this change has been the rise of tourism and museums dedicated to the history of mobsters and organized crime. In Chicago, there is a popular Al Capone bus tour taking tourists to gangland sites.

The Chicago Historical Museum's Web site gets 50,000 hits a month for Al Capone, but only 10,000 for the Great Chicago Fire.

In Las Vegas, Mayor Oscar Goodman is founding a "Mob Museum." The project is a good bet to succeed, according to some museum consultants. So it comes as no surprise that in little Apalachin, the owner of Angelo's Pizza is working with the online store nymobstore.com, which sells mob memorabilia. The items range from Frank Costello T-shirts to special key chains, with plans to sell the tomato sauce made by Fat Clemenza in Godfather.

Since Apalachin 58 years ago, the mob has been sanitized and found fit for American cultural consumption. The Sopranos' show recently won three more Emmys.

Only one thing remains to be done. Our government should come into the 21st century and stop labeling crime groups by the names of Italian-American leaders who have long gone from the scene, replaced by other ethnic groups whose chronicles and films are now being made.

Thanks to Silvio Laccetti

Hitting the Mafia

The aging bosses seated at the defense table in the packed federal courtroom in lower Manhattan look harmless enough to be spectators at a Sunday-after noon boccie game. Anthony (Fat Tony) Salerno, 75, the reputed head of the Genovese crime family, sits aloof and alone, his left eye red and swollen from surgery. White-haired Anthony (Tony Ducks) Corallo, 73, the alleged Lucchese family chief, is casual in a cardigan and sport shirt. Carmine (Junior) Persico, 53, is the balding, baggy-eyed showman of the trio. Elegant in a black pinstripe suit, a crisp white shirt and red tie, the accused Colombo crime boss is acting as his own attorney. "By now I guess you all know my name is Carmine Persico and I'm not a lawyer, I'm a defendant," he humbly told the jury in a thick Brooklyn accent. "Bear with me, please," he said, shuffling through his notes. "I'm a little nervous."

As Persico spoke, three young prosecutors watched, armed with the evidence they hope will show that Junior and his geriatric cohorts are the leaders of a murderous, brutal criminal conspiracy that reaches across the nation. In a dangerous four-year investigation, police and FBI agents had planted bugs around Mafia hangouts and listened to endless hours of tiresome chatter about horses, cars and point spreads while waiting patiently for incriminating comments. They pressured mobsters into becoming informants. They carefully charted the secret family ties, linking odd bits of evidence to reveal criminal patterns. They helped put numerous mafiosi, one by one and in groups, behind bars. But last week, after a half-century in business, the American Mafia itself finally went on trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoff, whose bushy mustache could not hide his tender age of 32, addressed the anonymous jurors in calm, methodical tones. Chertoff charged flatly that the Mafia is run by a coordinating Commission and that the eight defendants, representing four of New York City's five nationally powerful Mob families, were either on this crime board or had carried out its racketeering dictates. "What you will see is these men," he said, "these crime leaders, fighting with each other, backstabbing each other, each one trying to get a larger share of the illegal proceeds. You are going to learn that this Commission is dominated by a single principle -- greed. They want more money, and they will do what they have to do to get it."

Across the East River in another federal courthouse in Brooklyn, a jury was being selected for the racketeering trial of the most powerful of all U.S. Mafia families: the Gambinos. Here a younger, more flamboyant crime boss strutted through the courtroom, snapping out orders to subservient henchmen, reveling in his new and lethally acquired notoriety. John Gotti, 45, romanticized in New York City's tabloids as the "Dapper Don" for his tailored $1,800 suits and carefully coiffed hair, has been locked in prison without bail since May, only a few months after he allegedly took control of the Gambino gang following the murder of the previous boss, Paul Castellano.

Gotti, who seemed to personify a vigorous new generation of mobster, may never have a chance to inherit his criminal kingdom. Prosecutor Diane Giacalone, 36, says tapes of conversations between Gotti and his lieutenants, recorded by a trusted Gambino "soldier" turned informant, will provide "direct evidence of John Gotti's role as manager of a gambling enterprise." If convicted, the new crime chief and six lieutenants could be imprisoned for up to 40 years.

The stage has thus been set for the beginning of two of the most significant trials in U.S. Mob history. Finally realizing the full potential of the once slighted Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, federal prosecutors are trying to destroy Mafia families by convincing juries that their very existence is a crime, that their leaders should be imprisoned for long terms and that, eventually, even their ill-gotten gains can be - confiscated. Success in the New York cases, following an unprecedented series of indictments affecting 17 of the 24 Mafia families in the U.S., would hit the Mob where it would hurt most. Out of a formal, oath-taking national Mafia membership of some 1,700, at least half belong to the five New York clans, each of which is larger and more effective than those in any other city.

"The Mafia will be crushed," vows Rudolph Giuliani, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who has been leading the major anti-Mafia crusade and who takes personal affront at the damage done by the Mob to the image of his fellow law-abiding Italian Americans. Declares G. Robert Blakey, a Notre Dame Law School professor who drafted the 1970 RICO law now being used so effectively against organized crime: "It's the twilight of the Mob. It's not dark yet for them, but the sun is going down." Insists John L. Hogan, chief of the FBI's New York office: "We are out to demolish a multiheaded monster and all its tentacles and support systems and followers."

More cynical, or possibly more realistic, law-enforcement authorities doubt that these grand goals can be achieved. But they nonetheless admire the determination and the sophisticated tactics that the current prosecutors are bringing to a battle that has been fought, mostly in vain, ever since the crime-breeding days of Prohibition. Even the doubters concede that the new campaign is off to an impressive start.

From 1981 through last year, federal prosecutors brought 1,025 indictments against 2,554 mafiosi, and have convicted 809 Mafia members or their uninitiated "associates." Many of the remaining cases are still pending. Among all criminal organizations, including such non-Mafia types as motorcycle gangs and Chinese and Latin American drug traffickers, the FBI compiled evidence that last year alone led to 3,803 indictments and 2,960 convictions. At the least, observes the FBI's Hogan, all this legal action means the traditional crime families "are bleeding, they're demoralized."

In Chicago, where the "Outfit" has always been strong, the conviction last January of four top local mobsters for directing the tax-free skimming of cash from two Las Vegas casinos has forced the ailing Anthony Accardo, 80, to return from a comfortable retirement in Palm Springs, Calif., to keep an eye on an inexperienced group of hoods trying to run the rackets. The same skimming case has crippled the mob leadership in Kansas City, Milwaukee and , Cleveland. The New England Mafia, jolted by the convictions in April of Underboss Gennaro Anguilo, 67, and three of his brothers, who operate out of Boston, is described by the FBI as being in a "state of chaos." Of the major Mob clans, only those in Detroit and Newark remain relatively unscathed. But the muscle of organized crime has been most formidable in New York City. Prosecutors have been attacking it with increasing success, but expect to score their biggest win in the so-called Commission case (dubbed Star Chamber by federal investigators). Chertoff and two other young prosecutors handling their first big trial will have to prove that a national Commission made up of the bosses and some underbosses of the major families has been dividing turf and settling disputes among the crime clans ever since New York's ruthless "Lucky" Luciano organized the Commission in 1931. Luciano acted to end the gang warfare that had wiped out at least 40 mobsters in just two days in September of that year. Before that, top gangsters like Salvatore Maranzano had conspired to shoot their way into becoming the capo di tutti capi ("Boss of Bosses"). Maranzano, who had organized New York's Sicilian gangsters into five families, was the first victim of Luciano's new order.

For more than two decades the Mafia managed to keep its board of directors hidden from the outside world, until November 1957, when police staged a celebrated raid on a national mobsters' convention in Apalachin, N.Y. In 1963 former Mafia Soldier Joseph Valachi told a Senate investigating subcommittee all about La Cosa Nostra, the previously secret name under which the brotherhood had operated. After the Mafia had been romanticized in books and movies like The Godfather, some mobsters became brazen about their affairs. In 1983 former New York Boss Joseph Bonanno even published an autobiography about his Mafia years.

Reading that book, A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno, helped Giuliani realize that the little understood 1970 RICO act could be used against the Mob. "Bonanno has an entire section devoted to the Commission," Giuliani recalled. "It seemed to me that if he could write about it, we could prosecute it."

Bonanno, 82, seems to have had second thoughts about what he triggered. The aged boss has left his Arizona retirement mansion to serve a contempt-of-court sentence in a Springfield, Mo., federal prison rather than give testimony in the Commission trial. The mobster turned author, says one investigator, "is hearing footsteps."

Brought to bay in a courtroom, the Mafia bosses have adopted an unusual defense: rather than fight the Government's efforts to prove the existence of La Cosa Nostra, they admit it. "This case is not about whether there is a Mafia," thundered Defense Attorney Samuel Dawson. "Assume it. Accept it. There is." Nevertheless, he told the jury, "just because a person is a member of the Mafia doesn't mean he has committed the charged crime or even agreed to commit the charged crime." Dawson depicted the Commission as a sort of underworld businessmen's round table that approves new Mafia members and arbitrates disputes. Its purpose, he insisted, is "to avoid -- avoid -- conflict."

Much more sinister conspiracies will be described by Government witnesses in the trial. The prosecutors will contend that the Commission approved three murders and directed loan-sharking and an extensive extortion scheme against the New York City construction industry. The killings involve the 1979 rubout of Bonanno Boss Carmine Galante and two associates. Bonanno Soldier Anthony Indelicato, 30, and alleged current Bonanno Boss Philip (Rusty) Rastelli, 68, are accused of plotting the hit, with the Commission's blessing, to prevent Galante from seizing control of the Gambino family. (Rastelli, already engaged in a separate racketeering case, will face trial later.) The jurors will see a videotape of Indelicato, who is a defendant in the Commission case, being congratulated shortly after the killings by high-ranking Gambino family members at its Ravenite Social Club. "Watch the way they shake hands, watch the way they are congratulating each other," said Prosecutor Chertoff.

The crux of the Government's case, however, is more prosaic than murder. It details a Commission-endorsed scheme to rig bids and allocate contracts to Mob influenced concrete companies in New York City's booming construction industry. Any concrete-pouring contract worth more than $2 million was controlled by the Mob, according to the indictment, and the gangsters decided who should submit the lowest bids. Any company that disobeyed the bidding rules might find itself with unexpected labor problems, and its sources of cement might dry up. The club dues, actually a form of extortion, amounted to $1.8 million between 1981 and 1984. The Mob also demanded a 2% cut of the value of the contracts it controlled.

The key defendant on this charge is Ralph Scopo, 57, a soldier in the Colombo family, and just as importantly, the president of the Cement and Concrete Workers District Council before he was indicted. Scopo is accused of accepting many of the payoffs from the participating concrete firms. Scopo's lawyer admits the union leader took payoffs, but he and the other attorneys deny it was part of a broader extortion scheme. Since the Mafia leaders own some of the construction companies, said Dawson, the Government was claiming "that these men extort themselves."

Although the Commission trial involves four of New York's five Mob families, a more recent murder plot has prevented the Gambino family from being represented. Former Gambino Boss Paul Castellano and Underboss Aniello Dellacroce had been indicted. But Dellacroce, 71, died last Dec. 2 of cancer. Just 14 days later Castellano, 72, and Thomas Bilotti, 45, his trusted bodyguard and the apparent choice to succeed Dellacroce, were the victims of yet another sensational Mob hit as they walked, unarmed, from their car toward a mid-Manhattan steak house.

Law-enforcement agents are convinced that Gotti, a protege of Dellacroce's, helped plot the Castellano and Bilotti slayings to ensure his own rise to the top of the Gambino clan. No one, however, has been charged with those slayings. The Castellano hit may not come up at the racketeering trial of Gotti, his brother Eugene and four Gambino associates. But two other murders and a conspiracy to commit murder are among 15 crimes that the Government says formed a pattern of participation in a criminal enterprise. The defendants are also accused of planning two armored-car robberies, other hijackings and gambling, and conspiracy to commit extortion.

The major evidence in the Gotti case was provided through a bugging scheme worthy of a James Bond movie. In 1984 Gambino Soldier Dominick Lofaro, 56, was arrested in upstate New York on heroin charges. Facing a 20-year sentence, he agreed to become a Government informant. Investigators wired him with a tiny microphone taped to his chest and a miniature cassette recorder, no bigger than two packs of gum, that fitted into the small of his back without producing a bulge. Equipped with a magnetic switch on a cigarette lighter to activate the recorder, Lofaro coolly discussed Gambino family affairs with the unsuspecting Gotti brothers. Afterward he placed the tapes inside folded copies of the New York Times business section and dropped them in a preselected trash bin. Lofaro provided the Government with more than 50 tapes over two years. Says one admiring investigator: "You can't help wondering how many sleepless nights he spent knowing that if caught he would get a slow cutting job by a knife expert."

The increasing use of wiretaps and tapes, says another investigator, is "like opening a Pandora's box of the Mafia's top secrets and letting them all hang out in the open." Both top Mafia trials will depend heavily on tapes as evidence, as have numerous RICO cases around the country. The FBI's bugging has increased sharply, from just 90 court-approved requests in 1982 to more than 150 in each of the past two years. The various investigating agencies, including state and local police, have found novel places to hide their bugs: in a Perrier bottle, a stuffed toy, a pair of binoculars, shoes, an electric blanket, a horse's saddle. Agents even admit to dropping snooping devices into a confessional at a Roman Catholic church frequented by mobsters, as well as a church candlestick holder and a church men's room. All this, agents insist, was done with court permission.

An agent posing as a street hot-dog vendor in a Mafia neighborhood in New York City discovered which public telephone was being used by gangsters to call sources in Sicily about heroin shipments. The phone was quickly tapped, and the evidence it provided has been used in the ongoing "pizza connection" heroin trial against U.S. and Sicilian mobsters.

The agents were even able to slip a bug into "Big Paul" Castellano's house on Staten Island some two years before he was murdered. Ironically, they heard Castellano apparently complaining about Sparks Steak House, the site of his death. "You know who's really busy making a real fortune?" Big Paul asked a crony. "(Expletive) Sparks. I don't get 5 cents when I go in there. I want you to know that. Shut the house this way if I don't get 5 cents." In Mob lingo, authorities speculate, he seemed to be warning that the restaurant would be closed if it did not start paying extortion money to the Gambino family.

In Boston, FBI agents acquired details on the interiors of two Mafia apartments in the city's North End. With court approval, agents picked the locks early in the morning and planted bugs that produced 800 hours of recordings. The monitoring agents learned fascinating tidbits about Mob mores. Ilario Zannino was heard explaining how dangerous it is to kill just one member of a gang. "If you're clipping people," he said, "I always say, make sure you clip the people around him first. Get them together, 'cause everybody's got a friend. He could be the dirtiest (expletive) in the world, but someone that likes this guy, that's the guy that sneaks you." They heard Zannino and John Cincotti complaining about a competing Irish gang of hoods. Said Cincotti: "They don't have the scruples that we have." Zannino agreed. "You know how I knew they weren't Italiano? When they bombed the (expletive) house. We don't do that."

A major break in the Commission case came on a rainy night in March 1983 when two agents of the New York State Organized Crime Task Force carried out a well-rehearsed planting of a tiny radio transmitter in a 1982 black Jaguar used by "Tony Ducks" Corallo. In a parking lot outside a restaurant in Huntington, N.Y., on Long Island, one agent carefully opened a door, pressing the switch that would otherwise turn on the interior lights. Another helped him spread a plastic sheath over the seats so that rain would not spot the upholstery. With a stopwatch at hand, they quickly removed the dashboard, installed the bug, replaced the dash and closed the car door. The operation took 15 minutes.

For four months the bug transmitted intimate Mob conversations between the Lucchese boss and his driver, Salvatore Avellino, to agents trailing discreetly in various "chase cars," which rebroadcast the signals to a recording van. "It was the most significant information regarding the structure and function of the Commission that has ever been obtained from electronic surveillance," declared Ronald Goldstock, chief of the Organized Crime Task Force. After building his own case against the Lucchese family for a local carting-industry racket, Goldstock alerted Giuliani to the broader implications of using the evidence to attack the Mob's controlling Commission.

Where federal agents and local police once distrusted one another and often collided in their organized-crime investigations, a new spirit of cooperation is proving effective. In New York, state investigators have been invaluable to the FBI in probing the Mob, and some 150 New York City police are assigned full time to the New York FBI office.

The current wave of Mob trials has benefited as well from the number of former gangsters who have proved willing to violate the Mafia's centuries-old tradition of omerta (silence) and provide evidence against their former partners. Racket victims are less fearful than before of testifying. Nationwide, says Giuliani, "we've got more than 100 people who have testified against Mafia guys." To be sure, many witnesses are criminals facing long sentences; they have a strong self-interest in currying favor with prosecutors.

That is a point that the defense lawyers attack forcefully. "I can't tell a witness in jail to come and testify for me and I'll give him his freedom," Persico told the Commission jury. "The Government can do that. They're powerful people . . . Not me." Persico, a high school graduate who learned legal tactics working on appeals during some 14 years behind bars, is described by his longtime attorney, Stanley Meyer, as "the most intelligent fellow I have ever met in any walk of life." His unusual self-defense role also gives him a chance to come across as an unsinister personality to jurors. Persico's strategy, says one court veteran, "is brilliant, if it works." But he runs a risk: his questions must not convey knowledge of events that an innocent person would not possess.

The Commission trial is not expected to produce a turncoat as high ranking as Cleveland Underboss Angelo Lonardo, the top U.S. mobster to sing so far. He learned how to be a turncoat the hard way. Charged with leading a drug ring, Lonardo was convicted after a lesser hood, Carmen Zagaria, testified about the inner workings of the Cleveland Mob. Zagaria described how the bodies of hit victims were chopped up and tossed into Lake Erie. Lonardo, who wanted to avoid a life sentence, then helped prosecutors break the Las Vegas skimming case.

John Gotti is haunted by the deception of Wilfred ("Willie Boy") Johnson, a Gambino-family associate. Caught carrying $50,000 in a paper bag in 1981, Johnson invited New York City detectives to help themselves to the cash. They charged him with bribery. After that Johnson, who hung out at Gotti's Bergen Hunt and Fish Club, kept the cops posted on how the rising star was progressing. He also suggested where bugs might be placed.

The most loquacious turncoat may be James Frattiano, 72, once the acting boss of a Los Angeles crime family. He not only confessed publicly to killing eleven people but also wrote a revealing book, The Last Mafioso, and has taken his story on the road, testifying at numerous trials. All this public testimony means that the Mafia is losing what Floyd Clark, assistant FBI director in charge of criminal investigations, calls a "tremendous asset: fear and intimidation. That shield is being removed."

The willingness of some hoodlums and victims to defy the Mob is partly due to the existence of the Federal Witness Security Program, which since it started in 1970 has helped 4,889 people move to different locations and acquire new identities and jobs. At a cost to the Government of about $100,000 for each protected person, the program has produced convictions in 78% of the cases in which such witnesses were used. For some former gangsters, however, a conventional life in a small town turns out to be a drag. They run up fresh debts and sometimes revert to crime.

A more significant reason for the breakdown in Mob discipline is that the new generation of family members is not as dedicated to the old Sicilian-bred mores. Some mafiosi may have been in trouble with their families already. "Often, they're going to be killed if they don't go to the Government," says Barbara Jones, an attorney in Giuliani's office. Others feel that a long prison sentence is too stiff a price to pay for family loyalty. The younger mafiosi, explains one Justice Department source, "are much more Americanized than the old boys. They enjoy the good life. There's more than a bit of yuppie in them." Contends RICO Author Blakey: "The younger members are a little more crass, a little less honest and respectful, a little more individualistic and easier to flip."

The combination of prosecutorial pressure and the slipping of family ties may be feeding upon itself, creating further disunity and casting a shadow over the Mob's future. Certainly, when the old-timers go to prison for long terms, they lose their grip on their families, particularly if ambitious successors do not expect them to return. Younger bosses serving light sentences can keep operating from prison, dispatching orders through their lawyers and visiting relatives. They may use other, less watched inmates to send messages. Prison mail is rarely read by censors.

Still, the convicted dons run risks. The prison pay phones may be legally tapped. When the feds learned that the late Kansas City boss Nick Civella was directing killings from Leavenworth prison in Kansas, they bugged the visitors' room and indicted him for new crimes. But can prison bars really crush the Mob? Giuliani contends that as the Italian-American community has grown away from its immigrant beginnings, La Cosa Nostra has been losing its original base of operations and recruits. Pointing to the relatively small number of "made" Mafia members, Giuliani says, "We are fighting an enemy that has definable limits in terms of manpower. They cannot replenish themselves the way they used to in the '20s, '30s and '40s." The Mafia seems aware of the problem: U.S. mobsters have been recruiting hundreds of loyal southern Italian immigrants to run family- owned pizza parlors, help with the heroin traffic, and strengthen the ranks. Experts point out that the Mafia remains a wealthy organization that collected at least $26 billion last year. The Mob has deep roots in unions and labor- intensive industries such as building construction, transportation, restaurants and clothing. In many industries, says Ray Maria, the Labor Department's deputy inspector general, "the Mob controls your labor costs and determines whether you are reputable and profitable."

Repeated prosecutions alone will not put the organization out of its deadly business. Veteran observers of the Mob recall the prediction of the imminent demise of the Chicago Outfit in 1943 when its seven highest hoods were convicted of shaking down Hollywood movie producers. The bell of doom seemed to be tolling nationwide in 1963 when Joseph Valachi's disclosures set off an FBI bugging war against the families. In 1975 the most successful labor racketeering prosecution in U.S. history was supposed to have cleaned up the terror-ridden East Coast waterfront from Miami to New York. None of those highly publicized events had lasting impact.

Still, today's zealous prosecutors have a new tool that gives them a fighting chance to take the organization out of organized crime, if not actually to rub out the Mob. The same RICO law that allows prosecutions against criminal organizations also provides for civil action to seize their assets, from cash to cars and hangouts. A prime example of this technique was the action taken in 1981 against Teamsters Local 560 after it was shown to have been dominated by New York's Genovese family. A civil suit led to the discharge of the local's officers. The union was placed under a court- appointed trustee until free elections could be held. While such suits have been attempted against organized-crime figures only ten times, top Justice Department officials concede they have underestimated the leverage the law can give them. They vow to follow up the convictions they have been winning with civil suits against the family leaders.

The crusading Giuliani admits that the old practice of locking up a capo or two "just helped to speed the succession along." But by striking at all levels of the Mob families and then "peeling away their empires," Giuliani insists, "it is not an unrealistic goal to crush them." Perhaps. But first there are two new and potentially historic courtroom battles to be fought. For the Mob, and for an optimistic new generation of federal crime fighters, it is High Noon in New York.

Thanks to Ed Magnuson

Legendary Don: Mysterious and powerful, Joe Bonanno Retreated to Tucson, but Violence Followed

Salvatore "Bill" Bonanno sits in a backyard tree at his father's Tucson home, a shotgun cradled in his arm, watching for assassins. The family's German shepherd, Rebel, paces the patio, toenails clicking on flagstone. The digs are hardly ostentatious for a family of such repute; just a modest stucco dwelling on a quiet residential street.

Inside, the old man, Joe Sr., recovering from his third heart attack, watches TV in the living room with a friend. Bill's mom, Fay, is in bed, sick. Security, already tightened in recent weeks, is now locked down like one of bodyguard Pete Notaro's lumpy fists.

This is the so-called life of America's infamous crime family on July 22, 1968.

The Bonannos have retreated from a Mafia war in New York to their residential sanctuary at 1847 E. Elm St. But violence follows like an unwanted shadow.

A few weeks back, someone hurled a rock through the front window. Death threats arrived by mail and phone. And, one night earlier, dynamite tore apart a shed outside the home of longtime friend Peter "Horseface" Licavoli Sr., a retired godfather from Detroit.

Arizona just isn't safe anymore. Which is why Bill Bonanno, in dark pants and a black polo shirt, stands guard and wonders what the hell will come next.


In the history of America's Mafia, no name looms larger than that of the late Joseph Bonanno Sr. He became the youngest don in a world of tradition. He endured nearly a century while peers succumbed to bullets and prison. He was among the most powerful, yet mysterious, figures in a secret society.

Over the past half-century, the drama and intrigue have spilled into books, movies and news articles. Pieces of his life are littered in more than 1,700 pages of FBI intelligence obtained for this story, along with a box of confidential files from Arizona strike forces. His autobiography is part of the record, along with books written by family members. Bonanno is even considered by many to be the figure upon whom Mario Puzo based his lead character, Vito Corleone, in The Godfather series of books and films.

Yet his image, tangled with fictional mobsters like Tony Soprano, remains cloudy, if not contradictory: He is portrayed as a lawless hood, yet a man of principles; an uncommon crook, yet a venerable philosopher.

Although Bonanno's crime family was based in New York, his home for most of the last 50 years of his life was in Arizona. They say he retired here, but the history is clear that "Mr. B" oversaw an underworld empire from the Old Pueblo.

Crime came with him, and so did violence.

The June night drags on, hot and silent except for the chirping of crickets. Bill lights up a cigar and tries to relax.

At 36, the mobster's son is no stranger to combat. As a Tucson teenager, he got into a gunfight running firearms across the Mexican border. Much later, as third in command of the Bonanno crime family, he shot his way out of a New York ambush. But this guard duty . . .

Nobody likes waiting for an unknown enemy.

Around 9:30, Bill decides to go inside for a drink. As he opens the back door, Rebel snarls and bolts toward the gate. An object sizzles through the night sky, landing in the barbecue pit with a thud. Bill races to the stone steps against the tree, climbing so he can see over the wall. A silhouette runs toward the street. Bill levels his shotgun and fires once. The shadow stumbles, then disappears into a car that peels away.

As Bill watches - Boom! - an explosion knocks him to the ground and showers the yard with bricks and mortar. He rises, stunned, ears ringing. Joe Sr. appears at the door in shorts, bewildered. A second blast detonates atop the garage, slamming Bill against a lemon tree. Shattered windows and debris cascade to the ground. Faces and voices swirl in the smoke, yelling, "Are you OK?"

Fay is the last to appear, screaming in terror, her hair aglitter with shards of glass from a bedroom window.

Giuseppe Charles Bonanno Sr. was born in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, in 1905. The family moved to New York when he was 3, then returned to the homeland. His father, an Italian soldier, died of war wounds in 1915. His mother passed away five years later, leaving Peppino a 15-year-old orphan. He attended a nautical school in Palermo and then fled Italy because he despised Benito Mussolini's fascism or because he was wanted as a Mafioso, depending on which account you believe.

At 19, Bonanno caught a boat from Cuba to Florida and headed straight to New York, where he joined the mob and worked at a funeral parlor. During Sicilian gang wars of 1929-30, Bonanno rose to second in command of a crime family headed by his mentor, Salvatore Maranzano. He explained the promotion with sardonic humor, noting, "I didn't attain that position by being a spectator."

Within months, Maranzano was killed by rival boss Lucky Luciano. Bonanno made peace with Luciano and, at 26, became the youngest Mafia don. For more than three decades, Bonanno ruled mob crews in New York, Canada, Colorado, Wisconsin and Arizona. He helped found a nine-member Commission that regulated the 24 families of La Cosa Nostra. By his own account, the criminal enterprises included bookmaking, black-marketing, racketeering and political corruption.

The villainy often led to violence. If a Mafia underling defied or betrayed a boss, the code called for death. If one crime family leader plotted against another, it meant war.

Blood streams from Bill's face. Joe Sr. has cuts on his mouth and hand.

The wounds are nothing. The two men tell Fay to leave them so they can figure out what's going on and what to do. Still hysterical, she protests, but they send her to her room, telling her to have a cognac and calm down.

There is no time for hand wringing. Sirens echo in the night. It will be a matter of seconds before the squad cars arrive, joined by TV crews. Already, neighbors are gathering on the street out front.

Bill Bonanno, with a criminal history, doesn't hang around to answer questions about a shotgun and a wounded bomber. He hoofs it down a side street, dodging behind oleanders for cover, then heads to the nearby University of Arizona campus, his alma mater, a familiar haven where he can blend in with strolling students.

At the house, Joe Sr. puts on a pair of pants and hurries out back to the demolished barbecue pit. He hunches over and digs frantically through rubble. After a moment, he retrieves a pair of canvas bags, each about 20 inches long and 8 inches wide, then scurries inside the house.


Fay and Joseph Bonanno first visited Arizona in 1942. Their eldest son, Salvatore, was in agony from chronic ear infections. A physician said he would recover in a hot, dry climate. So the 10-year-old, nicknamed Bill, was brought to Tucson where he could turn his aching ear to the desert sun for relief.

Each summer, the Bonannos withdrew to New York, leaving the family scion behind in boarding school. A similar pattern evolved with the other offspring: Catherine attended a convent in upstate New York, and Joe Jr. was educated mostly in Arizona. Each winter, Joe and Fay returned to their sons in the land of saguaros.

Bonanno told neighbors he was a retired clothing manufacturer, a cotton farmer, a cheese baron. He invested in bakeries, parking lots, barbershops and real estate, usually through blind trusts. He befriended the bishop, a congressman, a state Supreme Court justice. He joined the Old Pueblo Country Club. "I had always rejected any attempt to include Tucson in my world," Bonanno explained years later. "Tucson was a place to get away from it all."

Mobsters and law officers familiar with "Joe Bananas" of New York were not buying the story. This was a guy who Time magazine described as "one of the bloodiest killers in Cosa Nostra's history." This was a guy who explained in coldblooded terms how to take out a rival: "Don't let the other guy know how you feel. Just keep patting him on the shoulder. . . . Be a diplomat. Make the guy think you're his friend until the right time comes, the right setup, and then you make your move like a tiger."

His life was a chain of intrigue, corruption and crime. How could he be legit in Arizona? Still, the early '40s were peaceful years in Tucson. Folks didn't worry about the debonair family man with the silk suits, Sicilian accent and pinky rings. They didn't appreciate his history.

Police arrive to gather evidence: a shotgun shell, bloodstains, dynamite fuses.

They ask about Joe Sr.'s injuries, but the old man dodges every question with his thick accent and sarcasm. His demeanor flits like a nervous bird from humor to anger. He talks about the beautiful Catalina Mountains. He bemoans the loss of his barbecue pit. He has nothing to say about a shotgun being fired.

A detective asks about the perpetrators. Joe Sr. shrugs: "You know how it is. . . . . Whoever did this has a demented mind. There's no such thing as a gangland war going on."

He looks the cop in the eye and adds, "If they want to kill me, they should do it on a man-to-man basis and not involve innocent children and women."

The place is crawling with cops, firefighters and reporters. A TV cameraman slips into the back yard, and Joe Sr. goes ballistic until the guy is escorted out.

An urgent teletype skips across America to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover: "Instant date double dynamiting occurred at subject's Tucson residence. . . . No injuries reported. Tucson P.D. still investigating."

The swift response: "If not already done, advise military intelligence and Secret Service."


Bonanno always maintained that Arizona was a sanctuary, but mob business followed inevitably. As far back as 1946, Tucson Police Chief Don Hays warned about underworld figures of Bonanno's ilk. "We have their records, their rogue's gallery photographs," Hays said in a speech. "We know they have unlimited finances. We know they are determined to take over Tucson."

For the next two decades, cops and politicians nationwide pursued him to little avail. Bonanno flourished until 1964, when mob politics and federal prosecutors threatened his life and freedom. On a rainy night in New York, Bonanno stepped out of a taxi and vanished.

The disappearance captured a nation's imagination and remains a mystery. Many believed the mobster was dead. Some figured he arranged a sham kidnapping to avoid prosecutors and assassins. Bonanno claimed later that he was abducted by Mafia rivals, held captive for weeks, then inexplicably released, whereupon he spent nearly a year hiding out in disguises and safe houses.

On May 17, 1966, Bonanno showed up in New York City's federal courthouse, surrendering to stunned U.S. marshals. It was typical of the Bonanno style. He spoke seven languages, was a prolific reader and regaled fellow mobsters with witty stories as they downed wine and pasta. But he also was a survivor who usually outsmarted enemies and the law. Ultimately, Bonanno even recast his own legend in his 1983 autobiography, A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno: "I have tried to be a good Father," he wrote. "I've led a productive life, not a parasitic one. I've had to protect myself and my people, but I've never been bloodthirsty."

The morning headline says it all: "Bonanno brings N.Y. mob war to Tucson."

FBI informers claim a rival crime boss hired a hit man who bungled the job. Justice Department lawyers churn out a memo: "The Cosa Nostra warfare concerning the Joe Bonanno Family in New York has now spread to Bonanno's home in Tucson, Arizona."

But it doesn't make sense; these attacks are being carried out by amateurs, not by hit men.

Two weeks go by. A bomb explodes at the home of Notaro, the bodyguard. Another blast detonates outside the residence of Evo DeConcini, former Arizona Supreme Court justice and erstwhile Bonanno friend.

Journalists and politicians launch a campaign to get Joe Bananas out of the Old Pueblo. Mayor James Corbett invites underworld figures to "live elsewhere." U.S. Rep. Morris Udall calls upon Hoover to send FBI reinforcements. Sen. Barry Goldwater declares that "the reign of the princes of La Cosa Nostra must end."

Publicly and privately, the Bonannos are mystified. Who would attack them or Licavoli or DeConcini? Why? What the hell is going on?


The Banana Wars erupted in 1965 with mayhem unseen since Al Capone. Bonanno henchmen riddled three enemy "soldiers" with machine-gun bullets as they ate spaghetti in Brooklyn. Another rival was shot in the throat while parking a car. An elderly capo was seated at a soda fountain when bullets tore his face apart.

After a year of fighting, the New York Times declared a victor: "Bonanno regains power in Mafia gang." But the situation remained precarious, and in 1968, Joe Bonanno Sr. withdrew to Arizona full time with his wife and a core of followers. That move has never been clearly explained. FBI reports suggest that Bonanno failed in a final power grab and was given a choice between death and retirement.

Bonanno offered a more honorable explanation: After winning the war, he realized that La Cosa Nostra was doomed; the Sicilian guard was dying out along with old loyalties and rules. Plagued by health problems (he suffered his third heart attack that year) and worried about his sons' future, Bonanno washed his hands of the whole mess.

There was no peace out West, however, as life spiraled through criminal investigations, bombings and family scandals. Bonanno's sons, operating at various times in Tucson, Flagstaff, Phoenix and San Jose, danced through a comic opera of crimes. And agents in dark sedans continued dogging the old man.

"I would have been content, after 1968, to lead a quiet, uneventful life," Bonanno said years later. "My retirement to Tucson, however, turned out to be a retreat into an inferno."

After dozens of bombings, Tucson is fed up. A Citizens Crime Commission forms. FBI agents and cops create anti-mob strike forces. Newspaper editorials call for Bonanno to leave.

Months elapse with no answer.

Then, exactly one year after the dynamite attack on Elm Street, police arrest two men: Paul Mills Stevens and William J. Dunbar Jr. Both suspects admit guilt but claim they were hired by FBI Special Agent David Hale, the bureau's Mafia expert in Tucson, who they claim was trying to foment a mob war.

Other witnesses back up that story.The FBI declines to comment.Hale resigns without facing charges.

Dunbar and Stevens, who was wounded by Bill Bonanno's shotgun blast, plead guilty. They pay $300 fines each but get no jail time.

Bonanno, once a feared crime lord, laments his plight as a victim. "This was a cover-up. . . . He (Hale) almost got away with murder. How come there was no public outcry of indignation?"

Years later, Hale tells a Tucson newspaper he was framed and had nothing to do with the bombings.

Either way, the Tucson bombing spree ends with a whimper, not a bang.


In 1976, the mob-style slaying of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles brought more heat from cops, plus a statewide media swarm. Bonanno called it the "Grand Inquisition."

Investigators watched his house, planted a beeper in his car, conducted illegal wiretaps and spied on him from aircraft. An Arizona strike force raided his garbage every week for 3 1/2 years.

Why? Intelligence reports from all over the nation asserted that Bonanno was planning a comeback, trying to take over the West. A 1976 FBI affidavit claimed he was even smuggling Sicilians into the country as "shooting men."

The Bonanno boys, meanwhile, stumbled through arrests and prison terms for fraud, extortion and other crimes. In fact, it was paternal loyalty that finally landed the old man behind bars with his only felony conviction. The charge: obstructing a 1980 grand-jury investigation of Bill and Joe Jr. by telling witnesses to lie and conceal evidence. Joe Sr. served eight months in prison.

Three years later, A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno. Bonanno refused to testify about the mob before a New York grand jury and spent 14 more months in jail for contempt.

That, for all practical purposes, was the end. The octogenarian retreated into his home, his family, his thoughts.

On May 11, 2002, after a lifetime defying the law and the gun, Bonanno died peacefully in Tucson. Hundreds attended the funeral while agents took snapshots from a dark van outside the church.

In a eulogy, Bill said, "If there is one word that identifies Joseph Bonanno, that word is tradition. . . . Tradition gave us a way of life."

His father's introduction to A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno contained an equally poignant epitaph: "Whatever your opinion of me, the truth is I am the last survivor of an extinct species of a bygone way of life."

Thanks to Dennis Wagner and Charles Kelly

Monday, October 29, 2012

How Lou Peters Took Down Joseph Bonano Sr. and The Mob

In 1977, things were going well for Lou Peters—he was living the American dream with his wife and three daughters, running a successful Cadillac dealership in Lodi, California. And in June of that year, he got an offer he couldn’t refuse.

A man approached Peters expressing interest in buying the dealership. When told it wasn’t for sale, the man was insistent, telling Peters to “name any price.” Finally, Peters said he would sell it for $2 million—nearly twice what the business was worth. The man accepted—then told Peters that the buyer was none other than Joseph Bonnano, Sr., head of the Bonnano organized crime family, who wanted the dealership to launder the family’s illegal funds.

Initially taken aback upon learning of mafia involvement, Peters eventually agreed to the sale, recounting, “I didn’t understand why these people wanted to come into our county. And I wanted to find out.” He then went to a local police chief and told him what had happened. When the chief asked what he was going to do next, Peters replied, “Well, I’m going to the FBI.”

And to the FBI he went, telling all. The FBI saw an opportunity to take down Bonnano and asked Peters for help. He was on board. “I felt it was the right thing to do, and I just did it,” he said.

Over the next nearly two years, Peters played the part of a corrupt businessman, gaining remarkable access to the Bonnano family and even becoming a close companion of Joseph Bonnano, Sr. To gain his confidence, Peters recalled saying something to “the old man” along the lines of, “Well, this should really bring me into the family”—to which Bonnano replied, “Lou, you’re already in the family.”

Through it all, Peters never took his eye off the ball—gathering evidence, secretly recording conversations, and debriefing agents on what he had learned. And his efforts weren’t without personal sacrifice…besides the risk to his life, he had to obtain a (temporary) legal separation from his wife not only to protect his family but also to have a credible reason to move out of his house—and into an apartment that was being monitored by the FBI.

In the end, Peters got what we needed. When he told Bonnano—during a recorded call—that he had been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury regarding his dealings with the family, the old man directed him to destroy any records that could be linked back to him and his associates. Peters took the tape to the FBI agent on the case. While listening to it, the agent jumped up and said, “You got him!”

Thanks to Lou Peters, Joseph Bonnano, Sr. was found guilty of obstructing justice and sentenced to five years in prison—the first felony conviction in the mob boss’ long life of crime.

To show its appreciation, in October 1980 the FBI presented Peters with an award for his selfless and valiant actions…an award that has been granted annually for the past 30 years as the Louis E. Peters Memorial Service Award, bestowed upon the citizen who best exemplifies the standards set by Peters in providing service to the FBI and the nation.

Shortly before his death in 1981, Peters said, “I was very proud of what I did for my country.” The country is very proud of him, too. Thanks, Lou Peters.

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