Vitale, the sixth mob turncoat to testify in the Howard Beach crime boss's high-profile trial, described in detail Tuesday two of the eight murders he said he carried out under Massino's orders.
"I wouldn't do nothing without Joe Massino's knowledge," Vitale said, later noting that "he was calling the shots."
During the past six weeks, prosecutors have been trying to prove that Massino - who is married to Vitale's sister, Josephine - rose through the Bonanno family ranks by ruthlessly murdering a half dozen rivals.
Massino, who prosecutors said conducted much of his operation from the Casa Blanca Italian restaurant in Maspeth, has been indicted on nearly two dozen charges, including seven counts of murder, racketeering, arson, loan sharking, gambling and extortion. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.
The Bonanno chief, wearing an open neck shirt and suit jacket, made no eye contact with his childhood friend as he walked passed the witness stand during the afternoon proceedings before Judge Nicholas Garaufis. His wife and son sat in the front row.
Massino whispered and smiled to them when his lawyer David Breitbar, was called to the bench after repeatedly shouting "objection" during the prosecution's examination.
Vitale's dramatic testimony Monday and Tuesday marked the biggest Mafia defection since Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano helped send Gambino family chief John Gotti to prison.
Prosecutors are hoping Vitale can do the same to Massino by linking him to the murders of former Bonanno family members Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano and Caeser Bonventre, who Vitale admitted to helping kill.
Mirra and Napolitano were shot to death in the early 1980s for letting federal agent Joseph Pistone infiltrate their crew, Vitale said. The case, which inspired the film "Donnie Brasco," sent dozens of mobsters to prison.
"It was an embarrassment to the whole family," Vitale said.
During a conversation with Massino in Howard Beach in 1981, Vitale testified that he was ordered to kill Napolitano, the Bonanno captain who ran the crew.
Asked what his instructions were from Massino, Vitale remember being told, "I have to give him a receipt for the Donnie Brasco situation."
U. S. Assistant Attorney Greg Andres asked Vitale to explain what giving Napolitano a "receipt" meant.
"I understand that he wanted him to be dead," Vitale said.
He then described how he drove Massino to the Staten Island house where Napolitano was slain in August 1981. They parked outside, Vitale said, and two men came outside to tell them the deed was done.
"It's over. He's done. He's dead," Vitale recalled them saying. Before heading back to Howard Beach, Vitale said they all joked about Napolitano's last moments.
The captain did not go down with the first round.
"He cursed," Vitale recalled the men saying. "He said, 'Hurry up. Get it over with.' And they shot him again."
Bonventre, a rival captain who Massino saw as a threat, met a similar fate in 1984, Vitale said.
Under Massino's orders, Vitale said he and another soldier called Louie "Ha-Ha" Attanasio carried out a hit on Bonventre in a car on Metropolitan Avenue in Maspeth. Vitale sat at the wheel outside a Maspeth garage, Bonventre was next to him in the front seat and Attanasio was in the back.
Vitale gave the signal to his partner to put a round in the back of Bonventre's head by saying "it looks good to me." But the captain did not die and desperately tried to wrangle control of the car.
"We were battling about in the front seat" when they pulled into the garage, Vitale said.
Bonventre fell out of the car onto the ground, where the other man unloaded several rounds into his torso, Vitale recalled.
Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@times
©2004 Community News Group
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