Joseph Massino, the first New York mob boss to become a cooperating witness, feels he has earned a release from prison. This week, the New York Daily News reported that the FBI agrees and asked the judge to reduce the former Bonanno big wig’s life sentence as a reward for his unprecedented cooperation. “As the first official boss of the American Mafia to testify publicly, Massino’s cooperation was an important milestone in the decades-long effort by the Department of Justice to dismantle and uproot La Cosa Nostra,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Taryn Merkl stated in papers filed Monday in Brooklyn Federal Court.
If the 70-year-old Massino manages to get released it will be another success for the smart wiseguy who brought back the Bonanno Family from the brink of extinction, heading a meeting of the Commission in 2000, before bringing the whole thing down when he decided to become a rat and give up his former family members. His biggest bargaining chip, besides being an official mob boss, was his loyal underling Vincent Basciano, who had taken over the crime family at his behest. While wearing a wire behind bars Massino set Basciano up for a future life in prison.
It seems omerta, the Mafia’s code of silence, is a thing of the past. When caught and facing serious prison time mobsters are on their hands and knees trying to get their freedom back. Still, those that do their time after committing their crime (allegedly) are respected by most of their colleagues (some simply think they are stupid). Being considered a stand up guy is one of the biggest honors a made man can achieve while he is out on the streets. But you earn that title away from the street, locked up away from your relatives. When you are in a cell while your former friends in the mob are robbing you blind, that is when you decide if you will stay quiet. In the end it all comes down to a personal code of honor.
We at Gangsters Inc. thought it would be nice to check which mobsters committed a lot of crimes but owned up to them and paid the piper without trying to bargain their way to freedom. Here is our unofficial top 5:
Number 5: Vic Amuso of the Lucchese Crime Family
Vic Amuso became boss of the Luccheses at the end of 1986. Together with his consigliere/underboss Anthony “Gaspipe” Casso (photo left: Amuso (1) and Casso (2)), he was handpicked by Antonio “Ducks” Corallo who himself knew he would be spending the rest of his life in prison as he was found guilty in the famous Commission Case.
The Lucchese Crime Family under “Tony Ducks” was a well-run and smooth money-making machine. As Amuso and Casso assumed their leadership positions the family quickly descended into chaos. Fueled by greed, distrust, and paranoia the two men started killing one Lucchese wiseguy after another.
When Casso got word from his corrupt sources within law enforcement that he and Amuso would be indicted in what was labeled The Windows Case both men went on the lam. Amuso must’ve been extremely happy to have a friend like Casso who could count on such useful connections. But after fourteen months as a fugitive police finally apprehended Amuso at a shopping mall near Scranton after an anonymous tipster had told them which time the Lucchese boss would appear at the mall. Was it Casso who ratted out his longtime friend? He sure was in a position to know when and where Amuso would be. And a few years later he proved he didn’t mind being an informant when he became a cooperating witness and told authorities everything he knew about La Cosa Nostra in order to escape life in prison.
But despite all of that Vic Amuso refused to talk. His best friend had stabbed him in the back, but that’s “the life” he chose. He wasn’t looking for an easy way out for the heinous acts he had committed during his long criminal career. By 1993 he knew he would serve the rest of his life behind bars. In 2013, at age 78, he is still there.
Number 4: Vincent Basciano of the Bonanno Crime Family
Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano loved the good life. Earning his nickname because he owned beauty salon “Hello Gorgeous” the Bonanno mobster always tried to look his best. For him this meant expensive clothing, a carefully kept hairstyle, and a nice tan. If anyone had to take a guess who would become a rat back in 2000, Basciano would probably be at the top of a lot of lists.
Operating out of the Bronx, Basciano was known as a man capable of murder. It was one of the reasons Bonanno boss Massino decided to hand him the position of acting boss when he was imprisoned. Despite the FBI’s corrupt dealings with Greg Scarpa Sr and James “Whitey” Bulger the general idea of many criminals is still that the Feds will not allow their informants to commit acts of violence.
But by the winter of 2004, Basciano was no longer operating on the streets but sitting in prison besides Massino. Vinny Gorgeous had been charged with a variety of racketeering charges including murder and was facing a life sentence. In jail the two talked and talked. Massino expressed his desire to continue running the crime family from behind bars and pressed Basciano on several issues including murders he had committed and was planning to commit. Basciano spoke freely, why wouldn’t he? Massino had been ratted out by a long line of Bonanno mobsters and a few months earlier had been found guilty of racketeering. He was going away for a long time and had never showed any interest in cooperating. So Basciano talked about ordering the murder of Randolph Pizzolo, explaining how and why. No harm in that.
Except for the fact that after having been found guilty that summer Massino had joined the government’s side and agreed to wear a wire in prison. Besides life in prison, Massino was also facing a possible death penalty for the murder of capo Gerlando Sciascia. To make all of that go away Massino decided to trade in his loyal dog Vinny Gorgeous. The two even discussed plans to murder prosecutor Greg Andres, the federal attorney who prosecuted all Bonanno cases. Basciano didn’t stand a chance.
After several trials and enough guilty verdicts on racketeering and murder charges Basciano was certain he would never again set foot in his beauty salon ever again. Even a possible death penalty loomed over his head. But Basciano went to trial, lost, and went back to his cell. He had rolled the dice, made a lot of money, climbed to the top of the Bonanno mob, harmed a lot of people, and was now willing to pay for his crimes. Who would’ve thought?
Number 3: Dominick Napolitano of the Bonanno Crime Family
It was a heart-wrenching scene. Lefty, Al Pacino’s character in the movie Donnie Brasco, had found out his mob protégé was an FBI agent. His mafia family knew as well. And they had called him to a meeting. Lefty knew that there would be no meeting. Only a murder. With him as the victim. He had introduced the undercover FBI agent to the mob family and now faced a death sentence for doing so. But that was the life he chose so instead of going to the FBI he left his jewelry and wallet at home and went to the meeting, to a certain death.
The movie Donnie Brasco was a huge hit and still is a fan favorite. Though based on a true story, the movie mixed facts and fiction for “dramatic purposes”. It wasn’t Lefty who went to that meeting. Lefty actually died of natural causes years later. The man who would rather die than run was Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano (right), a capo in the Bonanno crime family, and portrayed by Michael Madsen in the film.
Upon arriving at the meeting spot, Sonny Black was pushed down the stairs into the basement of a Bonanno associate and shot. When the first shot didn’t kill him, Napolitano turned to his killers, telling them: “Hit me one more time and make it good.”
How do we know this? Because two of the men present at the killing, one of whom pulled the trigger, would later become government witnesses and testify in court.
Number 2: Sonny Franzese of the Colombo Crime Family
John “Sonny” Franzese is a true mafia dinosaur. Born in 1919 he has spent over 25 years in prison. In 1967 he was hit with a 50-year sentence for several bank robberies and since then he’s been in and out of prison due to parole violations. And various new charges.
As a member of the volatile Colombo crime family, life isn’t easy for Franzese. Always tip-toeing through the tulips as the Colombo factions are usually at war for one thing or another. But Franzese isn’t the one to bitch and moan. Though he was very unhappy when his son Michael decided to give information to the FBI about his criminal exploits. So unhappy that he was rumored to have disowned him.
As he got older his heart softened and the two are said to be on speaking terms again. Maybe because Franzese’s other son, John Junior, had turned state’s evidence and would testify against his father in a 2010 racketeering trial. At least son Michael did not go that far.
Indicted in two separate racketeering cases, Franzese was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. With his release date set for 2017 it looks like he will spend the remainder of his life in prison. Now in his mid-90s prison still doesn’t faze the elderly gangster. “I die outside, I die in jail. It don't matter to me. I gotta die someplace.”
Number 1: John Gotti of the Gambino Family
Say what you want about John Gotti but he took his oath of silence very serious. Yes, he was caught on tape discussing murders he had ordered, murders he had committed, threats, illegal business, and much more, but he would never cooperate with law enforcement.
As boss he even forbade his crime family members to plead guilty to anything in order to get a lower sentence. Nothing any of them could do about it. Gotti was the boss and he and his relatives set the example. His brother Gene was (and still is) doing a 50-year sentence for running a heroin smuggling ring, while brother Peter is doing 25-years behind bars and is unlikely to get out of prison alive. Other Gottis, including John’s son Junior, all did or are doing their time as well.
In the end being a stand up guy is the only good thing both journalists and mobsters could say about John Gotti Sr. His brash, in-your-face, flamboyant style brought a lot of unwanted attention to the Gambino crime family and sent scores of wiseguys to prison. But it’s probably the only thing Gotti himself wanted to hear. Staying true to the sacred code and rules of La Cosa Nostra was his biggest goal. After breaking many of those same rules at least he remained loyal to the one we all know as “omerta”.
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