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Reputed Boss Of Mob Family Is Indicted


  • Jan. 10, 2003

Just weeks after the F.B.I. won its first defections from within the seemingly impenetrable Bonanno crime family, federal prosecutors yesterday unsealed a racketeering and murder indictment against the elusive man they say is the family’s boss.

Joseph C. Massino, the accused leader of the crime family, was the only one of the bosses of New York’s five Mafia clans to evade prosecution over the last decade, officials said. With the charges against him, which included the storied murder of a mob figure who was depicted in the film ‘’Donnie Brasco,’’ prosecutors said virtually all the senior members of the five families are either awaiting trial or have been convicted of racketeering crimes.

Investigators said that in contrast to better-known figures like the flamboyant John J. Gotti Sr., Mr. Massino was so obsessed with secrecy that he instituted stringent rules for Bonanno family members to avoid government detection. They seldom congregate in social clubs, investigators said, and are discouraged from bringing cellular phones into meetings, because of fear that the phones might contain listening devices.

The Bonanno family is so insular, in fact, that its leaders have held meetings in Mexico and Italy to avoid scrutiny, and have sought out new members in Sicily who would adhere to traditional Mafia mores, investigators said. It has also been difficult to penetrate, they said, because many members are tied by blood and marriage.


But Mr. Massino’s strict security measures, it seems, fell far short. Law enforcement officials said the defection in recent weeks of three imprisoned Bonanno figures — the acting underboss, his son and a captain in the crime family — provided the F.B.I. and prosecutors with a window into the family’s operations and history. That information, combined with the results of a continuing investigation, gave prosecutors the evidence they needed to charge Mr. Massino with a 22-year-old mob slaying and with loan-sharking and gambling, law enforcement officials said. Three other accused mob figures face similar charges.

The 19-count indictment, announced yesterday at a news conference by the United States attorney in Brooklyn, Roslynn R. Mauskopf, and Assistant Director Kevin P. Donovan of the F.B.I., charged Mr. Massino, whom they called one of the wealthiest figures in the mob, with racketeering conspiracy and murder. Also charged with the same crimes were his brother-in-law, Salvatore Vitale, 55, identified as the crime family’s underboss; Frank Lino Sr., 65, named in the indictment as a Bonanno captain; and Daniel Mongelli, 36, identified as an acting captain. All face life in prison if convicted.

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Ms. Mauskopf and other officials crowed over the indictments, calling them a capstone of a decade of prosecutions against organized crime bosses that have helped loosen the mob’s stranglehold over industries in the New York area.

‘’In the early years, the middle years of the 20th century, the structure of traditional organized crime was formulated, in large measure right here in Brooklyn,’’ she said. ‘’At the beginning of the 21st century, as a result of federal law enforcement’s efforts — their determined, their sustained and their outstanding efforts — the heads of the five families and a significant portion of their members have been brought before the bar of justice.’’

The Bonanno penchant for secrecy was borne of perhaps the best-known case connected to the family, in which an F.B.I. agent named Joseph D. Pistone infiltrated it for five years in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, gaining the confidence of an influential captain, Dominick Napolitano. Secret recordings and other evidence gathered by Mr. Pistone led to some of the most significant prosecutions in the 1980’s and to the killing of Mr. Napolitano, known as Sonny Black, because he had allowed the agent into the family’s inner circle.

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The case inspired the film ‘’Donnie Brasco,’’ which took its name from the name Mr. Pistone used while he was undercover. Over the last decade, the family gained renewed power and respect after a period in which internal rivalries and widespread drug dealing prompted the city’s four other crime families to shun the Bonannos.

Mr. Massino and Mr. Lino were charged yesterday with murder and murder conspiracy in the killing of Mr. Napolitano, who was found in a body bag with his hands cut off in a Staten Island swamp in the summer of 1982. He had disappeared about a year earlier, shortly after Mr. Pistone’s role was made public.

The indictment charged Mr. Vitale with murder and murder conspiracy in the 1992 killing of Robert Perrino, a Bonanno associate and a delivery superintendent at The New York Post who prosecutors said was slain because it was feared he was cooperating with the authorities.

The charges against the four men were added to an earlier indictment that accuses 26 other accused Bonanno crime figures with a range of charges including extortion in the parking lot industry in Manhattan. Among them was Richard Cantarella, who had also been charged with Mr. Perrino’s killing.

While Ms. Mauskopf and Mr. Donovan would not discuss the new defections otherofficals said Mr. Cantarella was among the Bonanno figures who recently began helping the authorities.

At a hearing before United States Chief Magistrate Judge Joan M. Azrack in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, prosecutors asked that Mr. Massino, who they said has been the Bonanno boss since 1991, be held without bail. Judge Azrack ordered Mr. Massino, who turns 60 today, held pending a detention hearing.

Matthew J. Mari, who represented Mr. Massino at the hearing, said his client told him he expected to be acquitted.


Mr. Pistone, in an interview, said the defections and the case against Mr. Massino were emblematic of the Mafia’s decades-long decline, brought on by a new generation of would-be gangsters who have lost touch with the old traditions. He described how Mr. Napolitano left his jewelry with a bartender before he disappeared, saying he was going to a meeting from which he did not expect to return.

‘’You think any of these young guys would do that?’’ he asked.

Correction: Jan. 16, 2003

A picture on Friday in a chart with an article about federal prosecutions of organized crime figures in New York was published in error. It showed Alphonse Persico, a deceased member of the Colombo crime family, not his brother, Carmine Persico, the family’s imprisoned boss.

A version of this article appears in print on Jan. 10, 2003, Section B, Page 1 of the National edition with the headline: Reputed Boss Of Mob Family Is Indicted. | |

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robert massimi

Drama critic for Nimbus Magazine, Metropolitan Magazine and New York Lifestyles Magazine. Producer, editor and writer.