Showing posts with label Salvatore Maranzano. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Salvatore Maranzano. Show all posts

Friday, June 26, 2015

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

Tracing the Roots of the American Mafia

The inchoate beginnings of the Mafia in the United States at the turn of the century cannot be nailed down to one moment, but the incident that Mike Dash uses to demonstrate its public arrival is an apt one: the "Barrel Murder" of April 14, 1903. Giuseppe Morello - nicknamed the "Clutch" or "the Clutch Hand" for the maimed right arm and one-fingered hand with which he wreaked terrible violence - and his henchmen stabbed and sliced a rival to death, stuffed him into a barrel and left him on the street to be found.

That incident catches most of the elements that were to become associated with Mafia activity in subsequent years: rivalry over illegal activityAmerican Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power, extortion, intimidation, protection and other rackets (such as kidnapping) and vendettas. And, most of all, murder. Rarely was there any middle ground; the way to deal with competition was to kill its operators.

In the earliest days, gangs (or "families") were concentrated in New York City. At first they preyed, as in Sicily, on their own, demanding "protection" money from Italian merchants or controlling Italian-run businesses such as ice and coal distribution.

Crime paid. By 1908, the Clutch Hand's influence had spread through New York's five boroughs. Three years later, he was considered the boss of bosses of the entire fledgling American Mafia. But there are always hammers waiting to whack the nail that sticks up. Dash covers in great, and sometimes gruesome, detail the rival Mafiosi who rose up to challenge Morello. Most of the names are obscure, though as we get closer to the 1930s familiar ones appear, such as Joe Bonanno, Joe Valachi and Charles "Lucky" Luciano.

Hammers were wielded by the good guys, too, the most prominent among them being William Flynn, chief of the New York office of the Secret Service, and Joseph Petrosino, a member of the police Italian Squad. Both had success in investigating, prosecuting and imprisoning Morello and others.

Slowly, crime that had been "Italian" became more "Americanized" as Mafiosi such as Luciano chose to work with non-Sicilians and even non-Italians. Luciano, an equal-opportunity murderer, hired two Jewish hoods to kill a rival, Salvatore Maranzano, in 1931. But until the 1920s, organized crime was relatively small potatoes. With Prohibition came gang wars worthy of the name and gangsters whose reputations still resound, like Dutch Schultz and Al Capone, the latter of whom made so much money in the Midwest "that his influence could be felt in Manhattan." And the "industry" was, in a sense, a gift from the U.S. government.

Thanks to Roger K. Miller

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

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Mafia Names You Should Know and Remember

No conversation about the history of baseball is complete without mentioning the last names Ruth, Mantle and Bonds, just as no conversation about American politics is complete without saying the names Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt. The Mafia is no different; it’s got its legends, its hall-of-famers, if you will. I know there are a lot of my readers who love to learn about the history of the Mafia. So, for those of you who love Mafia history, pay attention (and the rest of yous, shut your traps and just read the article). So here’s a history of Mafia names you should know and remember if you think you’re a true Mafioso.

Colombo
The Colombo family is one of the five families of New York. Before it was called the Colombo family, it was known as the Profaci family. The name changed in 1963 when Joseph Colombo became the capo. Joseph Colombo was unlike any capo before… or since. He didn’t shun the spotlight one bit. When the FBI began scrutinizing his activities, Colombo responded by calling it harassment against Italian-Americans. He even went so far as to organize the Italian-American Civil Rights League. His group began doing demonstrations such as picketing outside of the New York FBI building. He attracted the likes of government officials, as well as prominent entertainers like Frank Sinatra, to help his cause, and he received a lot of national attention. It was at one such Italian-American rally that Joe Colombo approached the podium and was shot three times in the head by a man named Jerome Johnson. A second gunman appeared and shot Johnson and disappeared into the crowd. To this day, nobody knows for sure who was really behind Colombo’s death. Many argue that is was Joey Gallo, a member of the Colombo family and critic of Joe Colombo’s. Others argue Carlo Gambino set it up.

"The Attorney General hates our guts. I think the President is behind it. I want to make the League the greatest organization in the country, the greatest organization in the world, so that people will be proud of us no matter what we do, where we are -- even if we are in prison."
- Joe Colombo

Gambino

Gambino is the name of one of the five crime families in La Cosa Nostra in New York. Gambino has become synonymous with Mafia life since the 1950s. At times, the Gambino family has been the most powerful of the five families of New York, and there was one man that made that happen: Carlo "Don Carlo" Gambino. To this day, the family still calls itself by the name of its greatest boss. Don Carlo ruled the outfit from 1957 to 1976, and eventually became the boss of bosses. During this time, his outfit was the most profitable it had ever been; he had at his command over 1,000 Soldatis and is said to have had rackets worth $500,000,000 per year. Gambino is most remembered for his ability to keep himself out of the press and out of jail -- he never spent a day behind bars.

“Judges, lawyers and politicians have a license to steal. We don’t need one.”
- Carlo Gambino

Capone
No list of famous gangsters would be complete without talking about Alphonse Gabriel "Al" Capone. He was known as “Scarface.” In his youth in New York, he insulted a sister of a Mafioso named Frank Gallucio. Capone apologized and said it was a misunderstanding, but Gallucio slashed him three times across the face, and that’s how he got his nickname. In 1921, Capone moved to Chicago and joined the Chicago Outfit. The rest is history, as they say. Capone became famous for the way that he completely took over the city of Chicago, including its police officers, judges and city officials. They were all on his payroll, and they all took orders from Capone. He lived in the Lexington Hotel, which the Chicagoans called Capone’s Castle. He didn’t need to shy away from the spotlight because he controlled just about everything in Chicago. Because of his power in Chicago, he caught the eye of the FBI. They called him a public enemy and began looking for ways to take him down. It was in 1931 that they got Capone for income-tax evasion, and Capone’s empire fell once and for all.

“This American system of ours -- call it Americanism, call it capitalism, call it what you will -- gives each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it.”
- Al Capone

Luciano
Charles “Lucky” Luciano is one of the most famous and best-remembered of all gangsters. He is like the Joe DiMaggio of the Mafia. He got his name “Lucky” when he was kidnapped and attacked by three assassins in 1929; they beat him and stabbed him multiple times and left him to die on the beach in New York. He survived the ordeal, which is why they called him “lucky,” but he received the scar and droopy eye that he became famous for. What Luciano did from there is what makes him famous: he plotted to kill his capo, Joe Masseria, with Salvatore Maranzano on the condition that Maranzano make Luciano an equal capo when Masseria was gone. After he took out Masseria, Maranzano went back on his word; he declared himself the capo di tutti capi (the boss of bosses) and demanded payments from Luciano. Luciano tolerated this until he found out that Maranzano was plotting to whack him. When Luciano heard this, he sent his men to Maranzano’s office dressed as FBI agents, so they wouldn’t receive any resistance, and they mowed Maranzano and his closest men down, including the man that was supposed to assassinate Luciano. From this point on, Luciano ruled as the capo of the Genovese family. He is remembered by some to be the father of organized crime.

"I learned too late that you need just as good a brain to make a crooked million as an honest million.”
- Charles “Lucky” Luciano (born Salvatore Lucania)

Thanks to Mr. Mafioso

Monday, November 20, 2006

Castellammare del Golfo Exports Mobsters to New York?

From the turquoise Mediterranean lapping its shore to the winding streets where old men soak up the sun on rickety chairs, a tourist would never know this one small town has produced many of New York's most notorious gangsters. Then again, the narrow-eyed suspicion with which outsiders are greeted might be a tipoff.

So it is fitting that New York's latest mob boss has roots in the same western Sicilian town that has exported some of the city's toughest mobsters for generations. His name is Salvatore (Sal the Ironworker) Montagna, 35, the reputed acting head of the Bonanno crime family.

Like the legendary Joseph Bonanno, model for "The Godfather," Montagna was born in Castellammare del Golfo. His family immigrated first to Canada (he has cousins who run a gelato business there) and then to New York.

It was last week that the Daily News exclusively reported that law enforcement authorities determined the Bonanno family, its ranks decimated by prosecutions, has turned to the youthful Montagna to take the leadership reins.

A hardscrabble fishing village clinging to a mountain rising steeply out of the sea 40 miles west of Palermo, Castellammare has been a stronghold of the Mafia for centuries, its men known for their pride, clannishness and violence when crossed.

Now a town of 20,000, its name - translated as the Castle at the Sea - comes from a ruined but still forbidding Saracen fortress near the small marina. The marble mausoleums clustered in the town cemetery bear many family names that became famous in New York: Bonanno, Profaci and Galante chief among them.

Questions about the Montagna family are greeted with some hostility. There is one Montagna listed in town, but no one answered the phone and asking around in his neighborhood wasn't fruitful. "I know him, but he's dead," said one of the old men lounging over coffee at a cafe. "Sorry."

During Mussolini's brutal crackdown on the Mafia in the 1920s, scores of Castellammarese fled to America, many settling in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The immigrants' ties to the land, each other and the Old World codes of honor gave rise to powerful, insular gangs that cornered the market on bootlegging, gambling and then-lucrative ice deliveries. Men from the town also went to Buffalo and Chicago, where they started their own mobs.

In the 1930s, New York was rocked by the Castellammarese War, which pitted immigrant mobsters from the town - led by Bonanno, Joseph Profaci and then-boss Salvatore Maranzano - against factions from Calabria and Naples, including Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Vito Genovese and Frank Costello. The bloody war ended when Maranzano set up an organizational structure for La Cosa Nostra and divided New York City into five families.

At 26, Bonanno was nearly a decade younger than Montagna when he came to head his own family. Then, as now, immigrants from Castellammare were prized soldiers.

BonannoA Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno, in his autobiography, "A Man of Honor: The Autobiography of Joseph Bonanno," wrote of their discipline and the importance of ancient family ties. He told a family legend about his Uncle Peppe ordering a younger man to strip off his shirt and take an undeserved lashing with a whip. "It's one thing to say you're never going to talk against your friends, but it's quite another not to talk when someone is beating you. I wanted to see how well you took a beating," Bonanno recalled his uncle saying.

His affection for his birthplace was evident: He spoke of playing in the fortress as a child, the taste of fresh mullet caught in the gulf nearby and the smell of lemons on the wind. When he died in 2002 at the age of 97 in Arizona, his funeral cards bore the image of Santa Maria del Soccorso, the patron saint of Castellammare del Golfo.

Another Castellammarese, Joseph Barbara, hosted the notorious Appalachian Mafia Conference of 1957, which was raided by the cops and began the mob's long slow decline.

In the past decade, Italian authorities have made a great effort to crack down on gangsters, and Castellammare is now thriving, with new six-story blocks of condos going up on the outskirts of town and fewer poor laborers leaving in search of a better life. But the port city is still a major center of Mafia activity in western Sicily.

The crew filming "Ocean's 12" in nearby Scopello in 2004 were caught up in it when 23 people - including a local police commander - were busted after a year-long probe of a sprawling Castellammarese extortion racket that included surveillance of the film set. Producer Jerry Weintraub later hotly denied widespread Italian news reports that the film crew was being shaken down with threats of arson on the set and that film's stars - George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts and Catherine Zeta-Jones - might have been in danger.

The national daily newspaper Corriere della Sera said the local Mafia is known for targeting moviemakers and has a lock on the hiring of extras.

While the ancient codes still hold sway, the gangsters are keeping up with the times and enforcement has gone high-tech. When producers of a recent feature wouldn't cooperate, thugs broke into the production offices and erased the moviemakers' hard drive's to make their point.

There have been other signs of modernity. Two of the highest ranking Mafiosi arrested in a big 2004 Castellammare bust were women - the wives of the town's top Mafia chieftains. Italian authorities said it would have been unheard of even a few years ago for women to get involved in protection rackets, but bragged that their prosecutions have been so successful that most of the men are now behind bars.

In New York, parallel crackdowns on the mob have put half the Bonanno family soldiers behind bars. So once again, the family has looked to the tough men and closed mouths of Castellammare del Golfo's crooked streets.

Thanks to Helen Kennedy


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