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Convicted at last, the mafia boss hunted by Donnie Brasco By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles 31 July 2004
The New York crime boss whose family was devastated by the trust it placed in the FBI informant "Donnie Brasco" was convicted on multiple counts of racketeering, arson, extortion, money-laundering, loan-sharking and other crimes yesterday, bringing what appeared to be a definitive end to a colourful 40-year career.
Joseph Massino, or "Big Joey", was reputed to be the head of the Bonanno crime syndicate and earned the nickname "the last Don" for his ability to elude criminal conviction while the heads of New York's other notorious Mafia families went down one after the other.
In the end, however, he was betrayed by his brother-in-law and seven other informants from within the Mob. Described by prosecutors in federal court in Brooklyn as "vicious, violent, cunning and murderous", he now faces the likelihood of life imprisonment. Sentencing is scheduled for October.
Prosecutors depicted Massino as a man who would stop at nothing to defend his business interests, and who brought the Bonanno syndicate back from the brink of extinction through an exhibition of sheer ruthlessness. "Some (of his victims) were left in the street, some were buried in shallow unmarked graves, some were cut to pieces and some disappeared and were never heard from again," prosecutor Robert Henoch told the court.
Among the killings he was accused of orchestrating was that of Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano, who had unwittingly befriended FBI Special Agent Joe Pistone, who was posing as a young jewel thief called Donnie Brasco. Agent Pistone spent five years gathering information on the Bonannos that was then used to secure a staggering 120 court convictions. The story later became the subject of the film Donnie Brasco, starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino.
According to an informant who testified in court, Napolitano was thrown down a flight of steps into a basement and shot. He begged his friends to finish him off with a final bullet, which they eventually did.
Yesterday's conviction was a triumph for the FBI after years of trying to pin a case on Massino and make it stick. He was previously hauled up on a racketeering charge in the early 1990s but managed to beat it.
While the other New York godfathers - including his close friend John Gotti, head of the Gambino family - were jailed, Massino executed a remarkable comeback for the Bonannos from his perch at the CasaBlanca restaurant he owned in Queens.
Acutely aware of the risk of wiretaps and other police traps, he had his followers tug their ears when referring to him rather than say his name.
In the end, though, he was betrayed by his oldest friend, Salvatore "Handsome Sal" Vitale, who was also his brother-in-law and second-in-command. Despite charges from the defence that Vitale and others were lying to obtain favourable treatment in their own cases, the jury chose to believe their stories.
Vitale spent a week sitting in the same courtroom as the friend he had betrayed, describing various murders they had plotted together, including those of rivals within the Bonanno family. The trial lasted two months in all, with the jury spending five days sifting through the evidence before reaching their verdict.