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Jury begins deliberating Massino case

Prosecutors have painstakingly built their case against the 61-year-old during the past nine-weeks in Brooklyn federal court, presenting more than 300 pieces of evidence and 75 witnesses to convince the jury that the Bonanno crime family boss killed seven rivals and controlled a gambling and loan-sharking empire. Massino faces life in prison if he is convicted of the 16 racketeering charges.

While Defense Attorney David Breitbart conceded Friday that the Bonanno family exists and that Massino was its leader for a number of years, he said the "Last Don" had no hand in the murders.

Under the code of La Cosa Nostra, he said, only the family head could hand out a "receipt," or execution order. Until 1991, that man was Philip "Rusty" Rastelli, who handed the Bonanno clan over to Massino when he died of cancer. The family minions Massino is charged with having shot, chopped up, and buried in shallow graves were all snubbed out before his reign, Breitbart said.

Prosecutors have heavily contested that notion. They said the testimony of eight turncoat mobsters - including the kingpin's brother-in-law Sal "Good Looking Sal" Vitale - proved that Massino has ruled the family for the past 25 years.

Witnesses said Massino consolidated his power in 1981, when he allegedly masterminded the execution of three rival captains in a Brooklyn social club. Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato, Philip "Philly Lucky" Giaccone and Dominick "Big Trin" Trinchera were summoned to the club under Massino's orders and mowed down by three gunman, witnesses testified.

"Mr. Massino told the shooters to wear ski masks and to say 'this is a stickup,'" said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitra Hormozi. "After that event Joseph Massino was running things."

Hormozi said he ordered four more murders in the wake of the Donnie Brasco episoode, in which federal agent Joseph Pistone infiltrated a Bonanno family crew. That case, dramatized in the film "Donnie Brasco," was an embarrassment to the family and sent hundreds of mobsters to prison.

As retribution, capo Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano was shot in the head and dumped in a Staten Island swamp in August 1981; soldier Anthony Mirra was shot in the back of the head while driving out of a Manhattan parking garage in February 1982, his body left in the running vehicle; capo Caesar Bonventre was chopped up and stuffed into two different trash barrels and stashed in a New Jersey warehouse in 1984; and soldier Gabriel Infante disappeared in 1985, apparently for botching a couple of executions, prosecutors said.

While Massino never pulled the trigger, Hormozi said, he was responsible for the hits.

"He was a one-man army," she said.

But Breitbart said that title should be reserved only for Vitale, Massino's alleged underboss who has admitted to 11 murders.

"Sal was always a liar, a corrupt liar, a degenerate liar," Breitbart said. "He was very, very jealous of being close to Joseph Massino."

They were friends since childhood, and Massino is married to Vitale's sister, Josephine, who has sat faithfully in the front row for nearly the entire trial. Dressed in an open-collared white shirt and blue suit, the rotund crime boss would often wink and whisper to her during breaks in the proceedings.

During his five-hour summation, Breitbart said Vitale, not Massino, was the Bonanno family boss during the 1980s, whimsically approving hits for money and participating in as many as 22 murders.

"Sammy the bull? A kindergarten kid compared to this guy," Breitbart said, referring to Salvatore Gravano, the legendary hitman and Mafia turncoat whose testimony sent Gambino family boss John Gotti to prison.

The other seven turncoat witnesses were liars, too, Breitbart said, convicted murderers who traded incriminating testimony for a shot at freedom. If they are cooperative, he said, the prosecution will recommend that their sentences be reduced.

"Do these people have motives (to lie)?" Breitbart asked. "Do bears have fur? Do golf balls have dimples? You bet they have motives."

Jury deliberations began Monday and were expected to last throughout the week.

Reach reporter Matthew Monks at news@timesledger.com or 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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