Mafia Inc.: The Long, Bloody Reign of Canada's Sicilian Clan - André Cédilot, André Noël (2011)
Chapter 14. JAILED
THE 2003 HOLIDAY SEASON was anything but relaxing for Commander Mario Plante of the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal. The idea that Vito Rizzuto might slip through the net he and his men had worked so hard to cast gnawed at him the entire time. No sooner was he back at his desk in January 2004 than he decided to order permanent surveillance on Vito Rizzuto. Detective Sergeants Nicodemo Milano and Pietro Poletti were assigned to supervise three teams of operatives. The RCMP, SQ and Montreal police pooled resources over the next three weeks to ensure Rizzuto was tailed twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
Milano and Poletti secretly studied the extradition dossier submitted to them by Ginette Gobeil, a lawyer with Canada’s Justice Department. These documents contained detailed descriptions of Rizzuto’s role in the three capos massacre. Meanwhile, officers Yves Messier, of the SQ, and Patrick Franc Guimond, with the Montreal police, combed through archives with an eye to assembling a comprehensive dossier of their own on the godfather of the Canadian Mafia, in preparation for his arrest and prosecution.
Commander Plante had even more cause for worry on January 15, when mob watcher Jerry Capeci posted an article to ganglandnews.com, a website then run in association with The New York Sun. “Feds Eye ‘John Gotti of Montreal,’ ” the headline blared. “Sources say [Vito] Rizzuto, now fifty-seven, was a member of the select hit team that blew away capos Alphonse (Sonny Red) Indelicato, Philip (Philly Lucky) Giaccone and Dominick (Big Trin) Trinchera in a Brooklyn social club,” Capeci wrote, adding that Rizzuto’s name had emerged as part of the testimony of a high-ranking mob turncoat—though he did not specify that the turncoat was Salvatore Vitale.
When asked about the allegations, Canadian law enforcement officials feigned ignorance. “I am not aware of the information, other than what I read in the [newspaper], but if it is true, it will be a blow to organized crime,” declared RCMP Chief Superintendent Ben Soave, commander of the Toronto-based CFSEU, who in the 1990s had helmed Project Omertà, which dealt a severe blow to the Cuntrera-Caruana organization.
Rizzuto, meanwhile, was still feigning indifference. To Commander Plante’s immense relief, he showed no signs of varying his daily routine. He stuck to his habit of taking lengthy evening meals with friends and associates at restaurants in Little Italy, heading to his home in the Saraguay district in the early morning hours. His wife, Giovanna, was now criticizing him regularly for his excessive drinking.
At 6:20 A.M. on January 20, Vito was fast asleep when Nicodemo Milano and Pietro Poletti knocked on his front door. With the detective sergeants were members of a special intervention team headed by Sergeant Gino Amorelli. The sun would not rise for another hour. A heavy-lidded Giovanna opened the door. Minutes later, Vito’s tall, spectral silhouette appeared. He stood at the top of the marble staircase in a white bathrobe, blinking the sleep from his eyes. With the massive chandelier blocking his view of the entryway, he couldn’t tell how many police officers were there. At length, he descended the stairs—his breath redolent with alcohol, the investigators noticed. Standing in the middle of Rizzuto’s living room, Milano announced that he had come to arrest him.
“Is it for that thing in New York?” Rizzuto immediately wanted to know. Had he been waiting for this moment for the past quarter century? The investigators read him his rights—in Italian—and asked him to get dressed. They followed him to his walk-in closet, where he picked out a black turtleneck, then slid a few hangers back and forth before choosing a chic pair of slacks with a jacket in a matching fabric. Wrists cuffed, surrounded by police officers, he stepped out into the chilly January air as first light broke onto Antoine-Berthelet Avenue. At the bottom of the front steps, he lost his footing on a thin sheet of ice; one of the officers seized him by the arm to keep him from falling onto the walkway.
Giovanna watched him go as he climbed into the back of an unmarked police car. Then, perhaps gripped by an intuition that she would not see her husband again for a long time, she waited for the convoy to get underway and disappear around the corner before slowly closing the door. The police vehicles turned off Antoine-Berthelet and onto Gouin Boulevard, along the Rivière des Prairies. Vito, now very much awake and alert, began questioning the two officers who sat on either side of him. He wanted to know which part of Italy Milano and Poletti were originally from, and asked who was in charge of the police operation. He seemed calm, in perfect control of his actions and emotions.
After arriving at the North Region police station, Vito called his lawyer, Loris Cavaliere, who hurried over. Cavaliere didn’t want to take instructions from his client over the phone; he wanted to see him in person. When he arrived at the station, officers handed him several documents. He studied them briefly, then conferred with Rizzuto in a small meeting room.
After that consultation, Vito spent the rest of the morning in a cell. Early in the afternoon, he was taken to the courthouse in Old Montreal. By then he looked drawn, tired and worried. He bowed his head as Quebec Superior Court Justice Réjean Paul, presiding over the hearing, summarized the serious charges pending against him in the United States. Vito Rizzuto’s name appeared on an indictment alongside those of twenty-six other men with such off-putting nicknames as “Patty Muscles,” “Mickey Bats” and “Joe Shakes”—all members of the Bonanno family facing a plethora of charges, from fixing baccarat games to murder.
After more than two decades, the secret of the three capos’ massacre was finally out. And the Montreal godfather’s role in the killings was spelled out in the twenty-one-page indictment: “Bonanno family soldier Vito Rizzuto has been charged with multiple murders … specifically the 1981 conspiracy to murder, and murders of Bonanno family captains Alphonse ‘Sonny Red’ Indelicato, Philip ‘Phil Lucky’ Giaccone and Dominick ‘Big Trin’ Trinchera.”
The document described the Bonanno outfit as “the only La Cosa Nostra family with a significant presence in Canada,” adding that Vito Rizzuto was its “most influential” Canadian representative. Unlike his last time in court, Vito was not answering charges for anything as ordinary as drunk driving. He was staring at a possible twenty-year prison term for murder and a $250,000 fine.
From the vast scope of the accusations, it was clear that the house of Bonanno was overflowing with traitors. A shuddering wave of panic now shook its walls. A few months earlier, an FBI surveillance detail had picked up a particularly worrisome conversation in New York City: Anthony Urso, then consigliere and acting boss of the family, had pushed for the murder of the defectors’ children and other loved ones. He believed this was the best way to stem the tide of treason. Nicknamed “Tony Green,” Urso had climbed every rung in the family hierarchy and won the trust of Joe Massino. He was the man Massino had sent to Montreal along with Salvatore Vitale following the murder of Gerlando “George from Canada” Sciascia, to gauge Vito Rizzuto’s interest in replacing Sciascia as official captain in charge of the Canadian faction (see Chapter 8).
“You gotta throw somebody in the streets; this has gotta stop,” Urso told other members of the Bonanno organization after Massino’s arrest in 2003. “You turned … we wipe your family out … Why should the rats’ kids be happy where my kids or your kids”—he was addressing James “Big Louie” Tartaglione—“should suffer because I’m away for life? If you take one kid, I hate to say it, and do what you gotta do, they’ll fuckin’ think twice.” Urso didn’t know his words were being recorded: Big Louie was among the defectors and had agreed to wear a wire. Urso was arrested the same day as Rizzuto, along with his lieutenant, Joseph “Joe Saunders” Cammarano, seven current and former captains, and several soldiers. A U.S. prosecutor said the sweep was the result of “the broadest and deepest penetration ever of a New York City–based organized crime family.”
Those winds of panic began to blow over Montreal as well. On Antoine-Berthelet Avenue, Giovanna and other members of the family huddled in the Rizzuto home, holding meeting after meeting to prepare the don’s defence—and to set in motion the post-Vito succession. Frank Campoli, one of Rizzuto’s key Ontario associates, who had been an employee of OMG and was a cousin of Giovanna’s, travelled from Toronto on several occasions to take part in the discussions.
Vito had once boasted to Michel Auger—the veteran Journal de Montréal crime chronicler and intended victim of a Hells Angels’ assassination attempt—that he was a man out to make peace, not trouble. “I’m a mediator,” he said. “People come to me to solve disputes because they believe in me. They have respect in me.” He believed he wielded enough power to keep rivals on the sidelines and dissuade criminal elements from perpetrating excessive acts of violence on the streets of Montreal.
He wasn’t entirely wrong, judging by the chaotic events that swept the city’s underworld in the months after his arrest. Independent drug traffickers began dealing their wares to whoever would buy, wherever they pleased—flouting the agreements that had prescribed distribution territories for specific criminal organizations, including the Mafia and the Hells Angels. One such maverick was Essy Navad Noroozi, alias Javad Mohammed Nozarian. The Iranian-born criminal’s specialty was importing relatively cheap brown heroin from his native country or from Afghanistan, and it had already earned him several trips behind bars. On the night of April 18, 2004, mobster Lorenzo “Skunk” Giordano ran into Nozarian at the Globe, a chic restaurant on lower Saint-Laurent Boulevard. He decided it would be a good idea to deal with him right there and then, but the Iranian drew a gun. While Giordano stabbed repeatedly at Nozarian’s head with a knife, with an associate trying to hold the Iranian trafficker down, a gun went off, the shot hitting Nozarian in the groin. Two police investigators, one from the RCMP and one from the Montreal police, visited the injured man in hospital, but he refused to identify his assailant. Alarmed at the surge in violence, police also met with Loris Cavaliere: Vito’s lawyer assured them that he would relay their concerns to the parties concerned and said that those responsible for the attack on Nozarian would “stop drinking and making trouble.” A conversation captured by police microphones hidden in the walls of the Consenza Social Club suggested that the message had been transmitted: Paolo Renda, Vito’s brother-in-law, was heard warning Giordano to go easy on the drinking and, more important, to refrain from gunplay, which was likely to “attract attention.”
Giordano, aged forty-two, and thirty-six-year-old Francesco Del Balso, another irascible antagonizer, often met with Francesco Arcadi at the Bar Laennec in Laval, a hangout for Montreal’s younger generation of Sicilian Mafiosi. Police had placed microphones and cameras in this establishment as well. Arcadi’s crew answered to the Rizzuto clan, but most of its young members lacked the judgment of old-school mobsters like Vito’s father, Nicolò, and Paolo Renda. Aggressive, impulsive, they seemed not to care about the consequences of their actions. Arcadi associated with members of a street gang called the Syndicate, who were subordinates of the Rockers, a Hells Angels puppet club—and indeed he shared the hotheaded disposition of many a criminal biker. He was a hardened criminal but had nothing of the charisma, finesse and leadership qualities that Vito displayed. Those shortcomings would soon provoke plenty of hostilities both inside and outside the Rizzuto clan.
Star witnesses had been lined up for the trial of Joe Massino during the summer of 2004. The Bonanno family boss faced a slew of racketeering charges, ranging from loansharking to money laundering, illegal betting, arson and murder.
One of the witnesses for the prosecution was a Bonanno associate who stood out because he wasn’t Italian. Duane “Goldie” Leisenheimer, of German and Irish stock, had thick blond hair spilling over his ears and forehead, giving him the look of an early British Invasion rocker. Massino, who was fourteen years his senior, had picked him out from among the on-the-skids teens in Maspeth, a neighbourhood in Queens, and taken him under his wing. He hired Duane to ride shotgun with him in his catering truck. Massino sold more than just coffee to neighbourhood workers: his truck was a front for trafficking of all sorts. The young Goldie’s job was to look out for “bad cars”—that is, police cruisers. The two gradually bonded, to the point that Massino trusted his protegé enough to enlist him in a precarious enterprise: Goldie would help Massino commit his first Mafia murder. Massino was eager to get in the good graces of the Gambino family boss, Paul Castellano, and to kill for him would be his ticket. The opportunity arose in 1975. Castellano, nicknamed “The Pope,” had flown into a rage when he learned that a wet-behind-the-ears kid who was dating his daughter had said he looked like chicken magnate Frank Perdue. In the world where pride rules, the cavalier young man had signed his death warrant. Massino delivered his dead body to Castellano as a token of his loyalty.
Despite the decades of camaraderie, Goldie knew that, without a drop of Italian blood in him, he could never aspire to become a made member of a family. He was doomed to a bit part. By the time he was indicted on racketeering charges along with other Bonanno associates, he had already partially detached himself from the crime family’s orbit. When authorities suggested he could avoid a lengthy prison term by testifying against his former mentor, he didn’t exactly stew over the decision. He accepted immediately.
At Massino’s trial, Goldie revealed all he knew about the three capos massacre. He testified that, at the time, he thought Gerlando Sciascia, one of Massino’s closest associates and the official captain of the Bonannos’ Montreal crew, didn’t trust him. He was right. George from Canada was on tenterhooks: he was nervous about letting the blond-haired, blue-eyed Leisenheimer play an important role in such a crucial crime. Still, Massino managed to convince him that his apprentice could be trusted, and Sciascia agreed that Goldie would be the one to drive him, Vito Rizzuto and another Montrealer to the social club on Brooklyn’s Thirteenth Avenue, where the triple hit would take place. While the bullets flew inside, Leisenheimer kept watch outside, sitting in his car a few doors down from the club, ready to signal Massino’s team by two-way radio if the police arrived. Years had passed, but it seemed Goldie’s job was still, in part, to look out for “bad cars.”
A helpless Josephine Massino attended her husband’s trial. The most she could do for the defendant was bring him food, freshly dry-cleaned suits and news about his granddaughter’s latest softball game. She brought him takeout meals, or fixed them herself—after all, she had worked in the restaurant business with Big Joey for over forty years. The couple owned the CasaBlanca, a family restaurant on Sixtieth Avenue in Maspeth with signs in block letters advertising its specialties: pasta and brick-oven-baked pizza. Inside, subdued lighting was reflected in mirrors tinted with a thin coating of bronze, and waitresses laid out placemats on tables decorated with bouquets of plastic flowers. Customers had a hard time choosing from among the delicacies on offer, from antipasti to oregano shrimp, veal scaloppini, linguine with roasted peppers, and desserts like sfogliatelle, a classic seashell-shaped pastry. The menus announced “CasaBlanca … where you’re treated like family!” The walls were plastered with photos of actors who had played mobsters in films and dined there, including Hugh Grant (Mickey Blue Eyes), James Caan (The Godfather) and, ironically, Johnny Depp (who played the title role in Donnie Brasco). If the house pianist wasn’t around to play everyone’s favourite Sinatra ditties, the hosts would pop a CD in the player and ensure the right ambiance with some choice cuts from the Godfather soundtrack.
Joe Massino was himself an excellent chef who liked to taste his cuisine as much as he enjoyed cooking it. In custody he had lost a lot of weight but still hovered around three hundred pounds, and food was for him an inexhaustible source of pleasure. Josie made sure to always have a snack at the ready for recesses during the trial. The Bonanno boss was facing the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison. Worse, he had another trial pending, for the murder of Gerlando Sciascia, the end result of which might well be a lethal injection coursing through his veins. If ever there was a guy in need of comfort food, it was Big Joey.
Josephine knew that her husband felt each successive testimony from a former associate like a knife in his heart. Frank “Curly” Lino was another who took the stand, explaining to the court the rules of membership in the American Mafia. “Well, once you’re a made member, you are not allowed to disrespect a member’s wife or daughter, you can’t co-operate with the government, and if you are called to a meeting, you can’t carry a gun.”
“If you are called to a meeting and you choose not to go?” prosecutor Greg Andres inquired.
“You’ll be gone,” Lino answered.
“When you say, ‘You’ll be gone’ …”
If the trial was already an ordeal for Josephine, it took an even more unpleasant turn when Salvatore Vitale began his testimony, recounting everything he knew about her husband. The two men had been friends since boyhood, when Massino had taught Vitale how to swim. Years later, Joey presided over Sal’s Mafia induction ceremony, and was best man at his wedding. Most painful of all, Sal was Josie’s younger brother.
Josephine refused to stand in court when the judge and Good-Looking Sal walked in. She remained seated in the front row with her two daughters, her face inscrutable, and steeled herself for what was to follow. Earlier, she had confided to Kati Cornell Smith, of the New York Post, that she felt simultaneously bitter and incredulous. “He wanted to hurt Joe because he’s looking to save himself,” she said to the reporter, explaining that Vitale had plea-bargained with the prosecution after confessing to eleven murders. She added that she couldn’t understand how her brother could have sunk so low: “It’s still too painful,” she said. “It’s really taken a toll on my family.”
His sister may have been devastated, but Good-Looking Sal didn’t appear the least bit troubled when he took his seat in the witness box. True to form, he had carefully combed his salt-and-pepper hair and put on a freshly pressed suit. Journalists were seated too far away to tell whether he had splashed on his favourite cologne, Boss, but he clearly cared about how he looked. An Associated Press scribe opined that he resembled a “paler version of the actor George Hamilton” (who, as it happened, had played an adviser to the Corleone family in The Godfather Part III). Anti-Mafia investigators had joked in the past that Vitale looked like a wedding cake figurine.
Sal pulled no punches in exposing the family’s secrets. “I was the official underboss of the Bonanno crime family,” he proclaimed, with a certain grandiloquence, in response to Greg Andres’s initial questioning. Andres, who was famed for his to-the-point style of questioning, got right down to business and asked Vitale if he had ever committed crimes for Joseph Massino. “I killed for him,” Vitale replied, without so much as a glance in the direction of his imposing brother-in-law. “Did many murders for Mr. Massino … Every dollar I made, I would split with [him]. I didn’t look at it like an obligation. He made me what I am. He made me a goodfella.”
Vitale told the court that, in addition to murders, he had been personally involved in “arson, hijacking, breaking and entering, extortion, shy-locking.” A reporter for The New York Times wrote that he “described killings, schemes and plots the way an accountant might list profits and losses.” The witness floundered somewhat, though, as he tried to recall the names of the murder victims. It wasn’t that he was trying to hide the truth. The reason was chillingly banal: the list was simply too long.
He was far more composed when asked why he had decided to stool on his brother-in-law and erstwhile best friend. He claimed it was Massino who had broken his trust first, ostracizing him even though he had the title of underboss. When Massino was jailed at one point, Vitale had enjoyed a brief spell at the top. But after his release, Massino had modified the outfit’s organizational structure such that none of the captains was required to report to Vitale. Good-Looking Sal in effect no longer had any power within the family. He said he knew he had fallen hard when Massino forbade him from accepting the traditional Christmas presents from Bonanno captains. “I was more or less being shelved—you have the title, but you’re not doing anything.” He said he felt that if he were imprisoned, his “wife and kids would be just left in the street.”
“That’s why I decided to do what I’m doing today,” he concluded.
His sister’s and nieces’ gasps were audible at the mention of family members. The witness continued to touch on the filial theme, declaring that he had done what his brother-in-law couldn’t: he had looked out for his sister Josephine while Big Joey was doing time. Massino remained impassive in the defendant’s dock. It was too much, however, for his thirty-seven-year-old daughter, Joanne: she leapt up and strode purposefully from the courtroom.
Mere months earlier, the disclosure of such stories would have been unthinkable. But on this day, there was nothing holding Vitale back. He unveiled secrets that other goodfellas had kept hidden until then, many about their victims’ last moments on earth. Besides admitting his own crimes, he described in detail those committed by other associates of Big Joey, men with ludicrous mob nicknames like “Dirty Danny,” “Louie Bagel” and “Monkey Man.” Life was cheap in the Bonanno family: someone could be killed for reasons as superficial as selling a counterfeit Rolex to a captain of the clan. The motive could also be far more serious: Sal Vitale revealed that the execution of the three renegade capos in 1981 had indeed been a bid to consolidate power in the hands of Joe Massino. The death sentence on Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano, meanwhile, had been issued for the unforgivable sin of having introduced Joe Pistone, in the guise of Donnie Brasco, into the family ranks.
Massino, who was diabetic, sucked on lollipops in court to quench the rage boiling up inside him. Steered by Greg Andres’s precise questioning, Good-Looking Sal outlined a raft of Bonanno family crimes, from minor to major. He explained how Persian carpets were smuggled into Canada and how money was loaned on the streets of New York at a yearly interest rate of 75 percent. He even became a reluctant linguistics teacher, explaining to the court the meanings of the many macabre yet colourful euphemisms of Cosa Nostra culture. Victims weren’t killed; they were “packaged.” And how was this “packaging” conducted? Andres wondered. Vitale recalled having murdered two individuals by shooting them in the back of the head, but he couldn’t remember having shot another victim between the eyes nor having gunned him down from the front.
Massino’s defence lawyer, David Breitbart, accused Salvatore Vitale of lying to escape the death penalty, and of using Andres and his fellow prosecutors to bring down Massino. Breitbart added that Vitale had even planned to kill his client with help from John Gotti, Massino’s neighbour and so-called friend.
Not troubled in the slightest, Vitale delved into highly personal topics: he spoke of issues his son had, and recounted family counselling sessions they had attended together. One day, he said, his son had come home with slash marks on his face, claiming he had been attacked by a homeless man. An enraged Vitale enlisted two associates to track down the guilty party. The hunt lasted for two months. At one point they thought they had their man and decided to kill him with an ice pick. The unfortunate vagrant escaped with his life when the pick got stuck in his tattered clothing. The truth emerged later: “My son slashed his own face,” Vitale explained. “During a therapy session he admitted it to me.”
It hardly took a degree in psychology to guess at the deep-seated reasons for Vitale’s son’s erratic behaviour. In the early 1990s, when the boy was given a no-show job in the distribution department of the New York Post by a low-level Bonanno soldier who thought he was doing the right thing, Vitale responded with one of the fits of rage that he had a knack for displaying. There was no way his son was going to be paid for sitting and doing nothing; he wanted him to go back to college. “I flew over the coffee table and was strangling him,” he told the court. “I said, ‘Don’t go back to the New York Post.’ ”
For Josephine Massino, listening to her brother on the stand had brought nothing but pain for three straight days. On the fourth day of his testimony, however, her disgust for him reached its zenith. Good-Looking Sal made it known that Joe Massino had transgressed the Mafia code by making him a Bonanno member on the basis of their friendship and family relationship. The established rules of Cosa Nostra stated that no one who had been employed in state correctional services could be inducted into a family. Salvatore Vitale had worked for a year as a guard in a Queens prison.
“Mr. Massino knew you were a correction officer?” Greg Andres asked.
“He knew,” Vitale replied.
After court recessed for the day, Josie unburdened herself in the presence of John Marzulli, a reporter for the New York Daily News. “I don’t ever want to see him again,” she said. “He’s my flesh and blood, but how could you forgive what he has done, not only to me but to my husband and the father of my children?” She had noticed that her brother hadn’t dared look in her direction the entire day, as she once again sat in the front row. After the hearing had resumed following a recess, she must have had the feeling her brother was purposely twisting the knife in the wound: Vitale told of how he had felt nothing but contempt for his brother-in-law on the day the two were arrested: “He don’t deserve the respect and honour for me to sit next to him,” he said. “I feel that Mr. Massino segregated my sister and her children from me.”
Breitbart was curious to know how it was that Vitale remembered the precise date of the three capos massacre, more than two decades after the fact. “My sons are born May 3 and May 6, so I can never forget May 5,” Good-Looking Rat said. He then reiterated that Vito Rizzuto had been the lead gunman that night, and explained how the signal for the killers to emerge from the closet had been given by Gerlando Sciascia running his hand through his hair.
The jurors needed only four days to return a verdict. On July 30, 2004, the jury forewoman read out each of the accusations against Joseph Massino; it took her ten minutes. As she came to the end of each count, she looked up and pronounced the fateful word: “guilty.” Big Joey was convicted of racketeering; extortionate extension and collection of credit (i.e., loansharking); arson conspiracy; the murders of Philip Giaccone, Dominick Trinchera, Alphonse Indelicato, Dominick Napolitano, Anthony Mirra, Cesare Bonventre and Gabriel Infanti; the attempted murder of Anthony Giliberti, a union official; extortion conspiracy; money-laundering conspiracy; illegal gambling and other crimes. There was not a single acquittal. Massino looked at his wife and shrugged his shoulders. Josephine remained stoic. As the jury’s findings were read out, she stared at the floor, every so often glancing at Adeline, the couple’s forty-three-year-old daughter, who sat beside her. “Not one we got,” Adeline murmured.
The federal government also sought to recover some ten million dollars in criminally acquired assets, which meant the Massino family risked losing their house as well as the CasaBlanca restaurant. On her way out of the courtroom, Josephine’s only comment to questioning reporters was a curt “I don’t have anything to say.” Her daughter Joanne, who had decided to stay home on the day the verdict was pronounced, was more forthcoming. “I don’t understand,” she told a reporter from Newsday. “All of the inconsistencies with these rats. It really is disgusting. I hope my uncle drops dead, I really do.”
Not so long before he faced justice, Joe Massino had made much of the fact that no member of the Bonanno family had ever co-operated with the authorities. At his trial, he had seen seven turncoats take the stand. Seven men he had trusted, and because of whose treachery he could very well be sentenced to life. And an even worse fate loomed. He still had to stand trial for the murder of Sciascia. Murder in aid of racketeering carried the death penalty. Big Joey might yet achieve the distinction of being the first U.S. Mafia boss in decades to be executed—for having spoken four words to his brother-in-law, Sal Vitale: “George has to go.”
In prison since his arrest in January, Vito Rizzuto had been making desperate attempts to win bail. The Quebec Superior Court had rejected his first request so he’d tried the Quebec Court of Appeal. Justice François Doyon issued his ruling in August 2004, a week after Joe Massino’s initial conviction in New York. He refused the bail request and decreed that Rizzuto remain imprisoned pending a court decision on his extradition to the United States.
Legal observers questioned the strategy adopted by Rizzuto’s lawyers. They had urged their client to admit a number of things in a written declaration, which was then appended to the bail request. They believed that the tactic would keep the bail hearing process from dragging on and, more important, curtail further police investigations, which would likely spell trouble for other members of the clan. Despite the concessions, the report submitted by police to Justice Doyon was very incriminating indeed.
In his bail request, Vito admitted to having remained a member of the Mafia since 1981, the year the three rebel capos were murdered. He also acknowledged that he had been offered a promotion within the Bonanno ranks in 1999. He said he had had “constant contact with persons having extensive criminal records or working in higher levels of organized crime, including drug trafficking and money laundering.” Some described him as “the chief, the boss, or the one who puts people in their positions.” He did not refute those characterizations. Lastly, he admitted that he had behaved as “a man of influence within organized crime.”
The avowals were of no use to him. Justice Doyon dwelled on details that the accused had glossed over, which were contained in the police report prepared by Detective Sergeant Nicodemo Milano. In the Montreal godfather’s statement of income and expenses, something didn’t add up. Rizzuto had no known employment aside from the position he claimed to hold with Renda Construction. The company had declared income of $8,031 in 2002 and $34,032 in 2003—hardly amounts that could justify his lifestyle.
Rizzuto styled himself a businessman, but curiously he had no credit cards or bank accounts in his name (except a joint account with his wife). From 1980 to 1985, however, he had held power of attorney over a number of Swiss bank accounts for members of his family. Since 2001, Rizzuto had travelled to eight countries, including Mexico, Cuba, St. Kitts, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. He had no vehicles registered in his name. Yet, Milano’s report stated, he had often been seen driving an suv and any number of luxury sports cars.
Rizzuto had neglected to mention another fact, namely that he had accumulated wealth by illicit means including loansharking. Posing as a high-stakes gambler, Sergeant Detective Nicodemo Milano had met a man named Giuseppe Triassi at the Le Cheval bar, part of the Casino de Montréal. The Sicilian-born Triassi confided to Milano that he had been working for Vito for more than twenty years. He also told him that he lent money at 10 percent interest—for a three-day term. On multiple occasions, police observed Triassi delivering the profits from those loans to the Consenza Social Club.
Vito had been seen in the company of known criminals in hotels and restaurants, on golf courses and at boxing matches in Montreal, Quebec, and Cornwall, Ontario. Milano’s report listed some fifty Mafiosi with whom Vito had been observed on various occasions in Montreal, Toronto, New York City and elsewhere, often at social events, weddings, birthdays and funerals.
“This report—indeed, the evidence as a whole—demonstrates that the appellant has spent the last twenty-five years and more in a highly criminalized environment,” Justice Doyon concluded. “In fact, for the purposes of this bail hearing, the parties admit that he has been a member of the Mafia since 1981. The defendant’s participation in criminal activities of the Bonanno family and more generally in the Mafia for a number of years, plus the importance of his role and the respect accorded him within the organization, provide him with access to diverse resources.” In short, the judge believed that, given the means at his disposal, Vito Rizzuto was a flight risk if he were to be released on bail.
That same month, Frank Cotroni succumbed to cancer, aged seventy-two. Assuming eternal life exists, he was off to join, in heaven or hell, old Joseph Bonanno, who had died two years previously, having reached the venerable age of ninety-seven. A page had been turned in the history of the North American and Montreal Mafia. As the founder of the eponymous crime family, Bonanno had rubbed shoulders with such legendary figures of organized crime in the United States as Lucky Luciano and Al Capone. He had dispatched Carmine Galante to Montreal, assigning him the task of modernizing the city’s underworld. With his cousin Stefano Magaddino, who ruled over Ontario from Buffalo, Joe Bonanno could be considered a godfather of the Canadian Mafia. In a world where men are often cut down in the prime of life, most often by gunfire, Cotroni and Bonanno shared the distinction of having lived long lives, ended in the usual manner, by illness or old age. Joe Bonanno expired on May 10, 2002, in his Arizona retreat. Since disclosing certain secrets in his autobiography, he had been viewed by his successors as a pariah. No soldier of the Bonanno family—which its most recent boss had seen fit to rename the Massino family—attended his funeral.
Vito Rizzuto’s father, Nicolò, did, however, pay his respects to Frank Cotroni, at the Loreto funeral home as well as at the Church of the Madonna della Difesa, on Dante Street in Saint-Léonard. Very few others in Montreal’s Sicilian Mafia were at the funeral ceremony, though, to see the deceased’s loved ones release seventy-two white doves into the sky over Little Italy—one for each year of his life, despite the fact that they had not been especially peaceful.
By October 2004, nine months after he had been incarcerated, Vito Rizzuto must have been wondering just how many rats there were in the house of Bonanno. News travels fast in mobland, and prison walls are no obstacle to its propagation. The latest information coming through from New York was not at all reassuring.
Aided by a backhoe operator, a dozen shovel-wielding FBI agents and other police officers had sifted through the muck in a vacant lot at the southern end of Ozone Park, on the border between Queens and Brooklyn, not far from the spot where, twenty-three years earlier, a group of children had stumbled upon the hand of Sonny Red Indelicato sticking out of the ground. Shifting aside concrete slabs, this was when the searchers had found what was left of Dominick “Big Trin” Trinchera and Philip “Philly Lucky” Giaccone. The marshy lot was well known as a clandestine cemetery for the Gambino family, New York’s most powerful mob outfit; the Gambinos had graciously allowed the Bonannos’ undertakers the use of a few plots. While they were at it, the FBI agents hoped to turn up other remains. With a bit of luck, they reckoned, they might uncover the body of John Favara, a former neighbour of Gambino boss John Gotti.
In March 1980, Gotti’s second-oldest son, twelve-year-old Frank, was riding a minibike in the street when Favara, driving home from work, struck and fatally injured him. Police ruled the death an accident. Favara knew the boy well; his own children often played with him. When he stopped by the bereaved family’s house to apologize and offer his condolences, Gotti’s wife attacked him with a baseball bat. Death threats were dropped off in his mailbox, and someone spray-painted the word “murderer” on his car.
Favara decided to move out of the neighbourhood. Four months after the accident, he was walking through the parking lot of the furniture store where he worked when, according to witnesses, a man beat him with a baseball bat and, aided by several others, forced him into a van. He was never seen again.
The federal agents also believed they might find the remains of Tommy DeSimone, who had been executed shortly after Christmas in 1978 for having killed two of Gotti’s men. DeSimone had achieved immortality, in a way, inspiring the character of Tommy DeVito in the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas, played by Joe Pesci. As it turned out, police hopes of finding either Favara or DeSimone were dashed. Clearly, however, the FBI had known exactly where to look for the bodies of Trinchera and Giaccone—a mob informant had told them. But who was it?
Rumour had it that the latest stool pigeon was a most improbable one: Joseph Massino himself.
Confirmation came in January 2005 via New York’s tabloids and their inimitable headline style. “Mob Boss a Rat,” the Daily News announced in its usual oversize type. “Canary on Top Perch—Godfather Turncoat” was the Post’s take.
No one was more stupefied by the news than Josephine Massino. Born in Sicily, raised in Queens, New York, she had been close to Joe since first meeting him at age thirteen. They were both seventeen when they married. Josie had steadfastly supported Big Joey through all of his recent hardships, in court as well as in prison. Earlier in their marriage, even as she watched her husband’s waistline grow more expansive, her love for him had remained unchanged. She had even stayed loyal after learning that he had taken a mistress while on the run from police, hiding out in the Poconos, in northeast Pennsylvania. Josie had resigned herself to giving up their sprawling home in Howard Beach, evicting her mother-in-law from her house in Maspeth (also purchased using proceeds of crime), abandoning the CasaBlanca and selling off all of the family’s property to pay the ten-million-dollar fine that was part of the verdict against her husband. But nothing had prepared her for the shock of seeing those tabloid headlines. Big Joey was now guilty of something even more reprehensible than infidelity or murder.
The articles explained that Joe Massino had decided to co-operate with federal authorities immediately after his conviction for racketeering, the previous August. The man who had forbidden members of the Bonanno family from uttering his name had been working with the FBI for six months. He had agreed to wear a wire and record conversations with Bonanno members incarcerated in the same prison as him, but who had not betrayed the organization. Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano was one of them. Massino had made him acting boss, responsible for street operations, but by November, Basciano had become a fellow inmate of Big Joey’s at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. Unaware he was being recorded, he let Massino in on a plan of his to kill Greg Andres, the crusading federal prosecutor. Big Joey knew that, with this particular recording, he now had a powerful card to play: by relaying the information about the murder plot to the FBI, he would save Andres’s life. In return, he wanted his own life saved. He offered to become a co-operating witness for the prosecution against Basciano.
The government agreed to waive the death penalty for Big Joey’s part in the murder of Gerlando Sciascia, and also offered to forgo the ten-million-dollar fine. Massino’s wife and mother could keep their houses. Despite that, Josephine must have felt as if the Rock of Gibraltar had collapsed beneath her. Only weeks before, the New York papers had called her husband “the last of the godfathers,” since the bosses of the other four families were all behind bars. Now she was doomed to a decidedly inglorious role in Mafia history: the wife of the first New York Cosa Nostra boss to co-operate with police. Josie and her family had enjoyed membership in the Mafia aristocracy. Now they were ostracized. Lepers.
Joseph Massino’s treasonous behaviour was a bombshell, roiling not only the Bonannos but the Gambino family as well. Big Joey’s friendship with Gambino boss John Gotti meant that he knew plenty of secrets about the largest of the Five Families. Now the Genovese, Colombo and Lucchese outfits had reason to worry as well. In the ensuing months, several high-ranking Bonanno members pleaded guilty to racketeering and murder charges, among them Anthony “Tony Green” Urso, the former consigliere and acting boss; Joseph Cammarano, a past underboss; and Louis Restivo, a soldier. Their families were thus spared the potentially prohibitive cost of legal proceedings and confiscation of their assets. Besides, with their boss now playing for the opposing team, they knew there would be no chance of acquittal.
So heinous was the crime of betrayal in mob culture that even the wife of one of Big Joey’s victims heaped scorn on Massino. “In my eyes, the guy is a sissy,” Donna Trinchera, the widow of Dominick “Big Trin” Trinchera, told John Marzulli of the Daily News. Nor could Massino’s daughters, who had loyally stuck by him during his trial, hide the disgust they now felt toward their dad. “I am done with him. I’m ashamed that he’s my father,” said Joanne. Her older sister, Adeline, said she couldn’t understand how her father could do such a thing: “We supported my dad through the trial but now feel it impossible to support or condone his actions any further,” she wrote in an email to a reporter.
Josephine refused to go to court for the sentencing. At that hearing, Massino made this confession: “As boss of the Bonanno family, I gave the order … to kill George from Canada.” Minutes later, he was handed his sentence: life imprisonment.
News of his superior’s defection could not have come at a more critical juncture for Vito Rizzuto, who by then was fighting extradition to the United States with the desperation of a drowning man.