The Bonanno crime family is one of the “Five Families” that dominates Organized crime activities in New York City, United States, within the nationwide criminal phenomenon known as the American Mafia(or Cosa Nostra).
Founded and named after Joseph Bonanno, for over 30 years the family was one of the most powerful in the country. However, in the early 1960s, Bonanno attempted to seize the mantle of Boss of bosses, but failed and was forced to retire. This touched off a period of turmoil within the family that lasted almost a quarter-century. It was the first of the New York families to be kicked off The Commission (mafia) (a council of the bosses that helps to maintain order in the Mafia), due to infighting for the boss’s mantle and allegations the family was actively dealing heroin. Later, the family faced shaky leadership, with the acting boss Carmine Galante murdered in 1979 at the command of Philip Rastelli, the actual boss. The family only recovered in the 1990s under Joseph Massino, and by the dawn of the new millennium was not only back on the Commission, but was the most powerful family in New York. There were also two major setbacks: in 1981, they learned that an FBI agent calling himself Donnie Brasco had infiltrated their ranks; and in 2004, a rash of convictions and defections culminated in Massino becoming a government Informant.
The origins of the Bonanno crime family can be traced back to the town of Castellammare del Golfo located in the Province of Trapani, Sicily. The Bonanno Mafia clan was led by boss Giuseppe “Peppe” Bonanno and his older brother Stefano as advisor. The strongest ally of the Bonanno clan was the boss of the Magaddino Mafia clan Stefano Magaddino. During the 1900s, the Bonanno and Magaddino Mafia clans feuded with Felice Buccellato, the boss of the Buccellato Mafia clan. After the deaths of Stefano Bonanno and Giuseppe Bonanno the youngest of the Bonanno brothers Salvatore took revenge, killing members of the Buccellato clan. In 1903, Salvatore Bonanno married Catherine Bonventre and on January 18, 1905 she gave birth to Giuseppe. Three years later Salvatore Bonanno moved his family to New York City. While away Stefano Magaddino took over running the Bonanno-Magaddino-Bonventre Mafia clan. Salvatore Bonanno along with members of the Bonanno-Magaddino-Bonventre clan began establishing dominance and control in the Castellammarese community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. While operating in Brooklyn, the Castellammarese leaders were able to preserve the criminal organization’s future. In 1911, Salvatore Bonanno returned to Sicily and died of a heart attack in 1915. Stefano Magaddino arrived in New York and became a powerful member of the Castellammarese clan. In 1921, Magaddino fled to Buffalo to avoid murder charges. The Castellammarese clan was taken over by Nicola Schirò.
In 1927, violence broke out between the two rival New York Mafia factions and soon developed into a full out war known as the Castellammarese War. The conflict started when members of the Castellammarese clan began hijacking truckloads of illegal liquor that belonged to Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria. The Castellammarese clan was based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and led by Nicola “Cola” Schirò who tried to work with Masseria. But one of the group’s leaders Salvatore Maranzano wanted to take control over New York’s underworld. Maranzano took control of the Castellammarese clan continuing a bloody Mafia War.
The Castellammarese faction was more organized and unified than Masseria family. Maranzano’s allies were Buffalo family Boss Stefano Magaddino, Detroit family Boss Gaspar Milazzo and Philadelphia family Boss Salvatore Sabella, all Castellammarese. Maranzano’s faction included mobsters Joseph Bonanno, Carmine Galante, and Gaspar DiGregorio. Maranzano was also close to Joseph Profaci future boss of the New York Profaci family. Finally, Maranzano established a secret alliance with Bronx Reina family Boss Gaetano Reina, a nominal Masseria ally.
After Reina’s murder on February 26, 1930, members of the Masseria faction began to defect to Maranzano. By 1931, momentum had shifted to Castellammarese faction. That spring, a group of younger mafiosi from both camps, known as the “Young Turks”, decided to switch to Maranzano and end the war. This group included future mob bosses Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Vito Genovese, Frank Costello, Tommy Lucchese, Albert Anastasia and Joe Adonis. As leader of the Young Turks, Luciano concluded a secret deal with Maranzano and promised to kill Masseria. On April 15, 1931 Masseria was murdered ending the long Castellammarese War.
Maranzano’s murder and the Commission
After Masseria’s death, Maranzano outlined a peace plan to all the Sicilian and Italian Mafia leaders in the United States. There would be 24 organizations (to be known as “families”) throughout the United States who would elect their own boss. In New York City, Maranzano established five Cosa Nostra families: the Luciano family under Lucky Luciano, the Mangano family under Vincent Mangano, the Gagliano family under Tommy Gagliano, the Profaci family under Joseph Profaci, and the Maranzano crime family under himself. Maranzano created an additional post for himself, that of capo di tutti capi, or Boss of Bosses.
Although Maranzano was more forward-looking than Masseria, at bottom he was still a Mustache Pete. It did not take long for Maranzano and Luciano to come into conflict. Luciano was not pleased that Maranzano had reneged on his promise of equality, and soon came to believe he was even more hidebound and greedy that Masseria had been. Maranzano, in turn, grew uncomfortable with Luciano’s ambitions and opposed his partnership with Jewish mobsters Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel. Maranzano secretly plotted to have Luciano killed. However, after Lucchese alerted Luciano that he was marked for death, Luciano struck first on September 10, 1931. Jewish gangsters hired by Luciano murdered Maranzano in his office. Now in control of the Cosa Nostra, Luciano replaced the “Boss of Bosses” with The Commission to regulate the Mafia’s national affairs and mediate disputes between families. Luciano was appointed the first chairman of the Commission.
The Bonanno era
After Maranzano’s death, Bonanno was awarded most of Maranzano’s crime family. At only 26 years old, Bonanno was the youngest Mafia leader in the nation. Years later, he claimed not to have known about the plot to eliminate Maranzano, but it is very unlikely that Luciano would have allowed him to live had he still backed Maranzano. Bonanno directed his family into illegal gambling, loansharking, and narcotics. The family also built significant criminal interests in California and Arizona. With the support of his cousin, Buffalo crime family boss Stefano Magaddino, Bonanno also expanded into Canada.
Like Maranzano, Bonanno believed in the Old World Mafia traditions of “honor”, “tradition”, “respect” and “dignity” as principles for ruling his family. He was more steeped in these traditions than other mobsters of his generation. The Bonanno family was considered the closest knit of the Five Families because Bonanno tried to restrict membership to Castelammarese Sicilians. He strongly believed that blood relations and a strict Sicilian upbringing would be the only way to hold the traditional values of the Mafia together.
Over the years, Bonanno became a powerful member of the Commission due to his close relationship with fellow boss Joe Profaci. In 1956, the relationship between the two bosses became stronger when Bonanno’s son Salvatore “Bill” Bonanno married Profaci’s niece Rosalie. The Bonanno-Profaci alliance deterred the other three families from trying to steal their rackets.
The Bonanno War (1964-1969)
The stable power relationship between the families collapsed with the death of Joe Profaci in 1962. Bonanno was now threatened by an alliance of Tommy Lucchese and new boss Carlo Gambino.[ At the same time, Bonanno was facing rising discontent within his own family. In the early 1960s many of the Bonanno family members were complaining that Bonanno spent too much time at his second home in Tucson, Arizona.
In 1963, Bonanno and Joe Magliocco, Profaci’s successor as boss of the Profaci family, conspired to wipe out several other mob leaders, Stefano Magaddino, Carlo Gambino, Tommy Lucchese and Frank DeSimone. Magliocco was given the task of wiping out Gambino and Lucchese, and gave the contract to one of his top hit men, Joe Colombo. However, Colombo instead alerted Gambino and Lucchese. The other bosses quickly realized that Magliocco could not possibly have planned this by himself. Knowing how close the Bonanno and Profaci families had been over the last three decades, they viewed Bonanno as the real mastermind. The commission summoned Magliocco and Bonanno. In view of their pioneering roles in the New York Mafia, the commission intended to go easy on them, with nothing more than a fine and loss of their family. However, only Magliocco showed up. He admitted his role in the plot and was forced to give up his family to Colombo.
On October 21, 1964, Bonanno disappeared and wasn’t heard from again for almost two years. After months of no word from Bonanno the Commission named capo Gaspar DiGregorio the new boss.Gaspar “Gasparino” DiGregorio The family split into two factions, the DiGregorio supporters and the Bonanno loyalists. In the media the event was referred to as the “Banana Split” or “Banana War”. The Bonanno loyalists were led by Bonanno’s brother-in-law Frank Labruzzo and his son Bill Bonanno. In 1966, DiGregorio arranged for a sit-down in a house on Troutman Street in Brooklyn. DiGregorio’s men arrived at the meeting, and when Bill Bonanno arrived a large gun battle ensued. The DiGregorio loyalists had planned to wipe out the opposition, but they failed, and no one was killed.
In May 1966, Bonanno reappeared and rallied a large part of the family to his side. He claimed that Magaddino, acting on behalf of the commission, sent two of his soldiers to kidnap Bonanno and held him captive for six weeks. However, this account is almost certainly false based on contemporary accounts of the time. Several of Bonanno’s button men were overheard expressing their disgust that Bonanno “took off and left us here alone”, and New Jersey crime boss Sam DeCavalcante was overheard saying that Bonanno’s disappearance took the other bosses by surprise. Bonanno may have had another reason to disappear—he was facing a subpoena from U.S. Attorney Robert Morgenthau, and faced the choice of either breaking his blood oath or going to jail for contempt. Further peace offers from both sides were spurned with the ongoing violence and murders. The Commission grew tired of the affair and replaced DiGregorio with Paul Sciacca, but the fighting carried on regardless.
The war was finally brought to a close with Joe Bonanno, still in hiding, suffering a heart attack and announcing his permanent retirement in 1968 (he went on to live to the age of 97, dying in Tucson in 2002). The commission accepted this offer, with the stipulation that he never involve himself in New York Mafia affairs again under pain of death. Both factions came together under Sciacca’s leadership. His replacement was Natale “Joe Diamonds” Evola as boss of the Bonanno family. Evola’s leadership was short lived – his death (from natural causes) in 1973 brought Phillip “Rusty” Rastelli to the throne.
Due to the infighting of the Bonanno family, it was spurned by the other families and stripped of its Commission seat. Rastelli took charge of a seemingly hapless, doomed organization. Rastelli’s former friend Carmine Galante became a powerful and dangerous renegade.
Having previously acted as a focal point for the importation of heroin to the USA via Montreal, Galante set about refining the family’s drug trafficking operations. The incredibly lucrative deals he was able to make made the family a fortune, but with the other four families being kept out of the arrangements, Galante was making a rod for his own back.
When eight members of the Genovese family were murdered on Galante’s orders for trying to muscle in on his drug operation, the other families decided he had outlived his usefulness at the head of the Bonanno family. On July 12, 1979, Galante was shot dead by three men, at a restaurant in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn.
Rastelli took over once again, but the family’s internal strife was far from over. Three renegade capos – Philip Giaccone, Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato and Dominick “Big Trin” Trinchera – began to openly question Rastelli’s leadership and apparently to plot to overthrow him. With the blessing of the other families, Rastelli had the three men wiped out in a hit arranged by then-street boss Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano, as well as the future Boss Joseph “Big Joe” Massino.
In August 2006, the alleged boss of the Montreal Cosa Nostra, Vito Rizzuto, was extradited from Canada to the United States to face charges in the 1981 murder in New York of the three Bonanno captains. Vito Rizzuto was released from prison in Colorado and returned to Toronto, Canada, on October 5, 2012.
Two of the men involved in the murder of the three rogue capos were Benjamin “Lefty Guns” Ruggiero and his capo Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano. Ruggiero had an associate, Donnie Brasco, whom he proposed for full family membership. In reality, Brasco was undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone, conducting what would become a six-year infiltration of the family.
Pistone’s undercover work led to numerous charges against the Bonanno family. Both Ruggiero and Rastelli received lengthy sentences. On August 17, 1981, Napolitano was shot and killed in a basement by Ronald Filocomo and Frank “Curly” Lino as punishment for admitting Pistone to his crew. Anthony Mirra, the man who had brought Pistone to the family, was also killed.
Pistone was on the verge of becoming made when the FBI ordered him to end his operation on July 26, 1981. Pistone wanted to become made, believing that if it got out that a Mafia family had allowed an FBI agent into its ranks, it would destroy its reputation for invincibility. However, Pistone’s superiors felt it was too dangerous. After the Donnie Brasco affair, the Mafia Commission removed the Bonanno family from the panel. However, when the federal government pressed charges against the New York Cosa Nostra leadership in the Mafia Commission Trial, the Bonannos avoided indictment. They were thus the only family whose leadership wasn’t decimated as a result of the trial. The leaders of the other major families were all sent to prison for life, with the Lucchese family losing its entire hierarchy. As a result, the Bonanno family was able to keep its leadership intact and build up its power again.
Under Massino’s command
Rastelli’s death in 1991, following a period in which he ruled the family from inside prison, saw the promotion of Massino to the top spot. However, Massino had been the real power in the family since the mid-1980s. One of his first acts was to change the family’s name to “the Massino family.” Like other mafiosi, Massino had been very displeased at Bonanno’s tell-all book, A Man of Honor, and believed he’d broken the code of omertà by writing it. However, the change never stuck, and most people outside the family continued to use the old name.
Remembering the pitfalls that landed other bosses in prison, Massino adopted a more secretive way of doing business. He shut down the family’s social clubs, believing they were too easy to bug. He also streamlined the family’s chain of command, assigning a group of capos to oversee a particular enterprise and report to underboss Salvatore Vitale. He also barred family members from speaking his name. Instead, they were to point to their ears when referring to him—a nod to how Genovese boss Vincent Gigante told his men to point to their chins rather than use his name. Remembering how close Pistone/Brasco had come to actually becoming made, Massino required any prospective soldier to be “on record” with a made man for at least eight years before becoming made himself. He also strongly encouraged his men to volunteer their sons for membership, believing that they would be less likely to turn informer and be more loyal. However, the family already had a reputation for loyalty; it was the only family that had never seen one of its members turn informer in the seven decades since the Castellammarese War.
Massino not only concentrated on the narcotics trade as had become mandatory for a mob boss, but also in other areas less likely to draw the attention of the authorities than drugs, such as the Mafia’s stock trades of racketeering, money laundering and loan sharking. A close friend of Massino’s, and boss of the Gambino crime family, John Gotti, also helped to get the Bonannos a seat on the Commission again. Over the next 10 years, the family steadily increased its power. By the mid-1990s, the FBI reckoned Massino as the most powerful Mafia boss in New York and the country. He was the only full-fledged New York boss who wasn’t in prison.
Massino turns informant
The family managed to keep its nose clean until 2000, when a pair of forensic accountants who normally worked on financial fraud cases discovered that Barry Weinberg, a businessman who had partnered with capo Richard “Shellackhead” Cantarella in several parking lots, had failed to report millions of dollars worth of income over a decade. Told he faced a long prison term unless he wore a wire and incriminated his Bonanno partners, Weinberg agreed to cooperate. One of Weinberg’s other partners, Augustino Scozzari, also agreed to cooperate. Between them, Weinberg and Scozzari captured hundreds of incriminating statements from Cantrella and his crew.
In October 2002, armed with this evidence, the government won a 24-count RICO indictment against 21 Bonanno soldiers and associates. The biggest names on the indictment were Cantarella—who was serving as acting underboss while Vitale was awaiting sentencing for loansharking and money laundering—and capo Frank Coppa. Within a month of his indictment, Coppa agreed to become a government witness, becoming the first made man in the Bonanno family’s history to break his blood oath. Soon after agreeing to cooperate, Coppa directly implicated Massino in the Napolitano murder, and also implicated Cantarella and Vitale in the 1992 murder of New York Post delivery superintendent Robert Perrino, who was a Bonanno soldier. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Cantarella negotiated his own plea bargain in December, and agreed to testify against Massino and Vitale.
Massino and Vitale were charged with the crime in 2003 after two of their capos turned themselves over as witnesses for the government. Vitale also faced charges for the murder of Perrino. Up to this point he had been utterly loyal to his boss. However, Cantarella and Coppa told FBI agents that Massino suspected Vitale was an informer and wanted him killed. When the FBI notified Vitale of this, Vitale decided to switch sides himself. He was followed in rapid succession by four other soldiers and associates. Massino now faced eleven RICO counts, including seven murders. In a separate indictment, Massino was charged with an eighth murder, that of Montreal-based capo Gerlando “George from Canada” Sciascia, which carried the death penalty. With seven of his former henchmen testifying against him, his conviction in July 2004 was a foregone conclusion. Four months later, Massino became the full-time boss of an American crime family to turn informant, sparing himself the ultimate penalty for the murder of Sciascia. By this time, 90 of the family’s 150 made men were under indictment.
Massino is believed to be the man who pointed the FBI towards a spot in Ozone Park, Queens, called “The Hole”, where the body of Alphonse Indelicato had been found in 1981. Told to dig a little deeper, authorities duly uncovered the remains of Dominick Trinchera and Philip Giaccone, as well as a body suspected to be that of John Favara, a neighbor of Gambino family boss John Gotti who had killed the mobster’s son in a car/bicycle accident, and paid with his life.
Massino is also believed to have provided the police with information on a number of high ranking Bonanno Family members and former acting boss Vincent Basciano, whose conversations with Massino were taped in late 2004 and early 2005 by the turncoat himself. Before Massino became an informant himself, his acting boss on the outside was Anthony “Tony Green” Urso, but his tenure was short-lived as he too was imprisoned on numerous charges, leading to Basciano taking control. Vincent Basciano’s term as acting boss was hampered with his arrest in late 2004, but with Massino’s eventual betrayal, authorities claim that Basciano assumed the top position in 2005, is allegedly the current Boss and leading the broken Bonanno family from his prison cell.
The authorities continue to plague the family, with the February 16, 2006 arrest of acting boss Michael Mancuso on murder charges, while alleged Boss Vincent Basciano was convicted on charges of conspiracy to murder, attempted murder, and illegal gambling and was sentenced to life imprisonment in late 2007. The main charge against him was that he conspired to murder both the judge and prosecutor in the case, as well as Patrick DeFilippo, a fellow Bonanno crime family captain.
Bonanno family Boss Vincent Basciano named Brooklyn business owner Salvatore “Sal the Ironworker” Montagna, as the new “acting boss” of the Bonanno Family. Sometimes referred to as “Sal the Zip” due to his Sicilian birth, Montagna was closely associated with the Bonanno Sicilian faction, including Baldo Amato and capo Cesare Bonventre. Montagna started as a soldier in capo Patrick “Patty from the Bronx” DeFilippo’s crew. In 2003, Montagna became acting capo after DeFilippo’s arrest on murder and racketeering charges. Law enforcement sources have stated that Salvatore Montagna was tabbed as “acting boss” with Vincent Basciano’s consent to maintain the Bonanno Family’s base of power within the Bronx faction of the Bonanno crime family.
The Bonanno family’s base of power was traditionally held by the Brooklyn faction from the time of Family patriarch Joseph Bonanno until the eventual rise of Queens faction leader Philip “Rusty” Rastelli in the early 1970s. The ascension of the Bronx faction began with Basciano’s promotion to acting boss, eventual ascension to the top position of Boss, continued through Michael Mancuso’s short tenure and now remains with Sal Montagna acting on behalf of Basciano.
In July 2004, The New York Times reported that federal prosecutors in Brooklyn “say that overall, in the last four years, they have won convictions against roughly 75 mobsters or associates in a crime clan with fewer than 150 made members.” In February 2005, Bonanno family Capo Anthony “Tony Green” Urso pleaded guilty to racketeering, murder, gambling, loan sharking and extortion charges, while Capo Joseph “Joe Saunders” Cammarano, along with soldier Louis Restivo pleaded guilty to murder and racketeering charges.”
Twelve Bonanno family member and associates, seven over the age 70, including acting consigliere Anthony “Mr. Fish” Rabito and respected soldier Salvatore Scudiero were indicted and arrested on June 14, 2005 on charges of operating a $10 million a year gambling ring.”
The defection of former Bonanno family Bosses Joseph Massino and Salvatore Vitale, along with four high ranking former Capos, has caused the Bonanno family to lose power, influence and respect within the New York underworld to a degree not seen since the Donnie Brasco incident. With Nicholas “Nicky Mouth” Santora as “acting underboss” for the imprisoned Michael Mancuso, and Anthony Rabito as the alleged consigliere, Montagna was capable of running the day-to-day operations on behalf of Vincent Basciano. On February 6, 2007 acting underboss Nicholas Santora, acting consigliere Anthony Rabito, captains or former captains Jerome Asaro, Joseph Cammarano, Jr. and Louis Decicco were indicted on racketeering charges.
Current position of the family
Under the rule of former Boss Joseph Massino, the Bonanno family climbed back to the top of New York’s crime family hierarchy and once again became a top power in America’s underworld, but high level defections and convictions have left the family a shell of its former self once more during its long criminal history. Vincent Basciano is serving a prison sentence for racketeering and Salvatore Montagna has been deported to Canada. Both were appointed acting bosses during Massino’s imprisonment and after Massino’s defection to the FBI.
A March 2009 article in the New York Post stated that Salvatore Montagna was the acting boss of the Bonanno crime family. The article also stated that the Bonanno family current consists of approximately 115 “made” members. Montagna was later deported to Canada in April 2009 leaving the family to create a ruling panel until a new boss was chosen.
On January 11, 2010 Jerry Capeci quoted sources as saying that Nicholas Santora and Anthony Rabito, who were both released from prison in 2009 and are still unable to meet freely with their fellow wiseguys, are supporting capo Vincent Asaro to become the new boss of the family. Asaro also has close ties to Queens-based mobsters from the Lucchese, Gambino and Genovese families who have voiced their support for him, sources say. A key player in the recent talks is Vito Grimaldi, who is viewed as an adviser to the Zips (Sicilian mobsters in the United States). Capeci’s sources say Asaro, who for many years has had dealings as both a mob supervisor and cohort of Sicilian wiseguys, may win Grimaldi’s support. Another candidate with key Sicilian backing is current acting boss Vincent Badalamenti. Due to Joseph Massino deciding to cooperate with the FBI, both sides agree that the family will no longer take orders from the man he previously appointed acting boss, Vincent Basciano.
In January 2012, prosecutors indicted the hierarchy of the Bonanno family on racketeering and extortion charges. These charges were primarily based on information from government informant Hector Pagan. Those arrested were Nicholas Santora, James LaForte, Vincent Badalamenti, and soldiers Vito Balsamo and Anthony Calabrese. All five defedants pleaded guilty to lesser charges and were given sentences ranging from six to 18 months. Anthony Graziano (Pagan’s ex father-inlaw), who was arrested in 2011, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison.In June 2013, Michael Mancuso, who is currently imprisoned was named the new official boss of the family. Mancuso is first man to hold this title since boss Joseph Massino became a government witness in 2005. Mancuso controls all decision making from prison while his underboss Thomas DiFiore is running the family on the streets.